When Caregivers Have Compassion Fatigue

Being a caregiver for an elderly adult can be stressful and it’s important to practice self-care and schedule breaks to avoid burnout and health problems.  But loved-ones and professionals who care for a senior with dementia can also suffer compassion fatigue.  Dementia care can take a significant emotional toll on carers in addition to the physical and mental demands of the role. 

People with dementia can be confused and resist the help they need to complete daily tasks like bathing, dressing or eating a meal.   It takes tremendous patience and resources to be able to care for someone who may not understand that they need help or appreciate the effort being made to provide loving care.  

According to a recent Huffington Post Canada dementia care blog, caregivers need care themselves and in a rapidly aging society, they are increasingly vital.  Whether a family member or paid staff, all caregivers can find the demands of the work, especially the emotional ones, can lead to an erosion in the ability to have compassion.  That’s when it’s time to take a break.  Once the person with dementia is safe, caregivers may need to step away for a few moments. 

Finding a support group with other caregivers can be helpful to share common feelings and frustrations and learn coping strategies.  It’s also important for caregivers to make time to care for their own health, go to doctor appointments, get regular exercise and spend time with friends.  Remember to put your own mask on first!

More Tips for Coping with Compassion Fatigue

  • Manage stress mindfully with deep breathing and exercise
  • Watch caffeine or alcohol consumption so they don’t become a problem
  • Get enough sleep
  • Make time for enjoyable activities
  • Use creative pastimes to reduce stress
  • Listen to music
  • Consider getting a regular massage or practicing yoga
  • Find someone to talk with; in a support group, a faith group or with a counselor

Learn more about compassion fatigue by visiting The American Institute of Stress website.  Or listen to a recent TEDTalk by compassion fatigue educator Françoise Mathieu here