How to Manage Caregiver Burnout When Caring for Loved Ones Living with Dementia

This article is about caregiver burnout amongst individuals caring for people living with dementia and how best to support them. Specialties Geriatric Article

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How to Manage Caregiver Burnout When Caring for Loved Ones Living with Dementia

Caring for loved ones with dementia is no easy task. It often requires significant time, dedication, commitment, and sacrifice. Caregivers are often left emotionally and physically drained. It is not uncommon for caregivers to experience feelings of burnout over time. Yet, many need to learn how to recognize or manage the signs.

Let's explore the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout and how caregivers can handle stress.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe various diseases that cause a decline in cognitive function, such as Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. Symptoms may include memory loss, confusion, difficulty speaking, changes in behavior and personality, and difficulty with basic tasks like bathing, dressing, and eating1. As dementia progresses, individuals will have trouble with their care needs and require caregivers to support them.

How Common is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout is prevalent among those caring for someone with dementia. A survey conducted in 2020 indicated that 80% of Alzheimer's caregivers had one or more symptoms of severe stress2. Additionally, over 1 in 3 dementia caregivers say their health has declined since caring for their loved ones, and nearly 60% of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers rate their emotional stress as high or very high3.

Several factors can cause caregiver burnout. These factors include physical exhaustion from providing around-the-clock care or emotional stress from witnessing the person's decline. Other factors include financial strain due to medical bills, social isolation, and guilt from feeling like they are failing in their caregiver role.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

The signs of caregiver burnout can vary greatly depending on the individual. However, there are some common signs that caregivers face. The common symptoms are:

  1. Depression 
  2. Social isolation 
  3. Difficulty sleeping 
  4. Exhaustion 
  5. Anxiety 
  6. Irritability and Anger 
  7. Neglecting your health 
  8. Lack of concentration 
  9. Changes in eating habits 
  10. Decline in health

Managing caregiver burnout requires finding ways to reduce stress levels while ensuring that your loved one receives the best possible care. Fortunately, there are things you can do as a caregiver to help.

Reducing Stress Levels: Tips

Ask for Help

Caregivers can ask for help from other family members or friends to support them. Having assistance could mean asking a friend to stay with your loved one for a few hours so you can leave home. Or you can request a family member to help you run errands, like grocery shopping.

Join a Support Group

Support groups are a great way to bring people who are going through similar situations together and provide you with an opportunity to share personal stories and coping strategies. A support group may be a great way to get the emotional support you need from people who understand what you are experiencing. You can check with your local Alzheimer's group for information on support groups.

Learn about Dementia

Learning about dementia can help you when caring for your loved ones. It can be challenging to care for someone if you do not understand the disease. A family doctor can advise of common symptoms of dementia or even point you in the direction of resources that can help. For instance, a healthcare professional who has experience with patients living with dementia can share strategies on how to support your loved ones during periods of confusion or combative behaviors.

Utilize Local Resources

Local government or organizations may provide services where personal support workers help you care for your loved one's needs, like bathing, dressing, and feeding. Other services can include respite services, where you can drop your family members at an adult day program for a few hours. Another option may be having someone stay with your loved one while you get a few hours to yourself.

Explore Short-stay Respite or Assisted Living Services

Assisted living facilities provide short-term stays for your loved one (up to 30 days) to give caregivers a break.

Take Care of Yourself

Permit yourself to do things you enjoy, even if it is just for an hour or two, whether it is going to see a friend, reading a book, or exercising. Self-care may look different to each person, but paying attention to yourself can go a long way in preventing you from feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. Additionally, you can practice relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing to alleviate stress.

Caring for someone with dementia can be incredibly difficult physically and emotionally. It can lead to feelings of burnout over time. If left unchecked, this burnout can progress and severely affect physical and mental well-being. Understanding when and where to get help before you experience burnout can go a long way in ensuring that you do not experience negative consequences. Healthcare professionals should also look out for signs of caregiver burnout among families and provide resources and support whenever necessary. By recognizing these issues early on and providing appropriate assistance when needed, we can help ensure that caregivers receive the support they need. 


1What Is Dementia?

2New Survey Shows Warning Signs with High Stress Levels for Alzheimer's Caregivers during COVID-19 Shutdowns

3Alzheimer's Disease Caregivers

Rebecca Minott, BScN RN, is a registered nurse and freelance health writer with experience in acute care and community health. Her passion is writing engaging health content to empower and educate communities.

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Specializes in Critical Care, Procedural, Care Coordination, LNC.

Great topic and information. I have seen many burnt out caregivers in the hospital. Once things settle after initial admission I always encourage them to go home for a proper break and some decompression. Thanks for sharing!