This is a story I need to share with you… 307



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My friend Barb is one of the most generous people I have ever known. She has always been the friend I could rely on and has always been someone who was happy to take on another project or another volunteer job if she knew it could make a difference.

Two years ago her husband Peter was diagnosed with terminal cancer – we thought he only had three months left, but by the gift of some miracle, he keeps on hanging on. Because of this, Barb has been his full time carer. Even though he remains in an uncertain limbo defying medical knowledge, they spend every moment together in case tomorrow isn’t so bright.

Barb has put her time and love into keeping Peter happy and comfortable. But two weeks ago something happened, and I can’t believe I didn’t see the signs. She had a breakdown. Firstly it was physical, she fainted while doing the grocery shopping. She didn’t let it stop her, but three days later she couldn’t get out of bed. She was crying but she didn’t know why, she was exhausted but she couldn’t sleep. She had gone into a limbo just as bad as Peter’s.

She had caregiver burnout and as someone who saw her every three days, I am disappointed that I didn’t understand what it was or see the very clear signs.

Caregiver burnout is an increasingly common condition. The average age of a caregiver is 63 according to a Gallup survey; an age when your body begins to stop handling stress as well as it once could. Caregiver burnout occurs when the additional stress caregivers take on begins to take a significant toll on their own health and behaviours. Caregiving is a difficult challenge – it is chronic, ongoing and often it has no end date.

The result of caregiver burnout are diverse – but they are all significantly detrimental to the carer. Emotional issues like depression and anxiety can arise from the stress, physical problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and a low immune system leading to other problems can all occur as a direct result of caregiver burnout.

The problem I have with Barb, is that I didn’t once notice that so many of the symptoms were already present – I just passed them off as unusual or different behaviors that were totally normal. But the fact that they were occurring all together is why it was so bad.

She stopped eating regularly and claimed, “she didn’t have time” to sit down and eat a proper meal often enough. She didn’t just look tired but she was tired and talked about it so often. When we were away from Peter and he was being looked after by another family member, she spent her time worrying and talking about the caring instead of relaxing with us.

I wanted to share my story with you all, because I know that so many of you are carers or have friends and family whom you care for. I wish I had realised the symptoms in Barb before she reached her breaking point, because I like to think I could have helped.

If you notice your friends and family who are caregivers with any of the following symptoms, it would be wise to try and gently intervene to relieve the pressure they feel under.

  • They have much less energy than they once had
  • It seems like they catch every cold or flu that’s going around
  • They’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
  • They neglect their own needs, either because they’re too busy or they don’t care anymore
  • Their life revolves around caregiving, but it gives them little satisfaction
  • They have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
  • They’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person they’re caring for
  • They feel helpless and hopeless

Caregiver burnout is a very real problem that is starting to affect too many people. Don’t oversee the symptoms, because your loved one could be hurting.

Have you had caregiver burnout or have you had a loved one who has experienced it? What advice can you give to carers to help them manage their stress?

Starts at 60 Writers

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  1. Thank you for your letter, my mom is going through the same thing with my dad and she’s 82, going to sort it out tomorrow, I’m always so busy never gave it much though, thanks again! Hope your friends better

    3 REPLY
    • Your MOM will need extra care, it is very difficult on the spouse to let others help, but you must insist, that she has a break, even going to see a movie and a meal out once a month is a big deal. Good luck, the Hymers family, Australia.

    • Thank you for posting this article. I’m a carer for my husband who has asbestosis. I have always wondered when people say to me “But how are you?” It all makes sense after reading this post.

    • been there….and yes, more recognition for the carer….a meal delivery would have been my most appreciate thing at that time….

  2. Yes its all true. I spent 12 years looking after my husband and although was a nurse, the emotional drainage is immense. It was assumed I would know how to cope. Thank heavens for friends who recognised when I needed support. It was a privilege to care for him but it was tough too.

  3. Such a sad story. I have advanced breast cancer, fortunately I am still able to do most things on my own, but I do worry about how my hubby will cope as my carer. I don’t want to be a burden on him so I encourage him to have ‘time out’ by playing golf a couple of times a week. I am hoping this will continue when my condition worsens.

  4. I agree wholly. I cared for my husband who was diagnosed officially with Alzheimer’s ten years ago. During that time one has to have the patience and care for someone they love during the terrible illness. Many people did not know his condition as he was a social person and could talk to all, not remembering who they were. He was admitted to hospital then to Respite where he stayed as a patient until his passing. I did not realise how bad my nervous system was until he was admitted to the nursing home, but thank goodness I recognised the signs. I am strong, have a large circle of friends, sewing with friends making charity stuff, and will get back playing golf and lawn bowls. I love to potter in the garden, and most of all have the most Loving family. God Bless.

  5. I think I came pretty close to this point a while ago..thankfully I had a friend who saw what was happening and sent me away for a total break…must have been in time because I was able to rest and recover well.

  6. I have found that so e carers will not accept help, have to be there when they need it. So carers if help is offered please consider as people can be turned away. All carers are angels

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