Caretakers Syndrome: Neglecting Your Needs When Caring for Another
Dessina King, LPN
Whether you are charged with caring for a special needs child, an elderly parent, or a debilitated spouse, fulfilling the role of caregiver can be an arduous task. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, you are caring for someone who can’t care for themselves. Their needs always come first. Your day is consumed with where they have to be, what they need to eat, what medicines need to be given, and every other aspect of their daily activities.
But what happens when you just don’t feel like it that day?
Is there someone who can get the task done and take care of the daily business without having to ask you questions every step of the process?
What happens if you fall ill, or you just can’t do it?
Yes, you are needed. Yes, you are appreciated for all you do. But have you taken the time to ensure your emotional, physical, and mental needs are being met? Do you have anyone who can relieve you of your duties when needed? Often times, for the caregiver the answer to these questions is “No”, and it can lead to some dire consequences.
Caretakers can fall victim to what is known as Caretakers Syndrome. This is where the health of the caretaker has gone unchecked, leaving them prone to depression and a myriad of other health conditions. It is usually seen during the long-term care of a loved one during a chronic illness or for end of life care, whether it be aging parents, a terminally ill child, spouse, or even a friend.
The symptoms are sometimes described as physical, emotional and psychological exhaustion; listlessness; fatigue; a need for diversion; and a growing wish to be someplace else.
“The Caregiver Survival Series” by James R. Sherman, Ph.D., lists three stages that can evolve from the Caretakers Syndrome ultimately leading to burnout. First, frustration stems from not seeing enough progress toward recovery. Next, depression can develop including prolonged periods of helplessness, loss of concentration and control. Ultimately, despair leads to hopelessness and resentment.
There are some practical steps that have proven to be beneficial in resolving some of these feelings encountered by those with the Caretakers Syndrome.
- Ask for help. Expressing your sense of exhaustion and feelings of being overwhelmed is the first step. Don’t be afraid to ask for help whether it be from other family members, friends, your church or other community resources. Now may be the time to look for outside help from either a home health agency to provide assistance with the care of your loved one, or light housekeeping so you can get out and take time for yourself.
- Write it down. Journaling helps to resolve feelings of discontent or at least it may help you to acknowledge hidden feelings of guilt or resentment. Being able to verbalize or get on paper your deepest thoughts helps to put your situation in perspective.
- Talk it out. Counseling is always an option. Just talk about it and get another point of view from your doctor, minister, social worker, licensed counselor, or dear friend.
- “Me” time. Make time for yourself, it’s imperative to the mission you are on. If you don’t take care of you, who will? It’s an important question to ask.
- Exercise. Exercise is one of the greatest gifts to give to oneself. It is a great stress reliever, can help to clear your mind, make you feel better, and it can give you energy. There are long term benefits for your body, mind & spirit when you make exercise a part of your daily routine.
- Groups. Support groups can be helpful. Group settings let you interact with others who completely understand what you are experiencing and may have insight to help you through.
If you find yourself in the role of a caregiver, remember that mental, physical, and emotional health needs must be met first in order for you to be efficient and effective. Stay encouraged, always reminding yourself that what you are doing is noble, honorable, and necessary.