How Dementia Caregivers Can Cope With Compassion Fatigue

Caregivers are more than just hired help; they are also first and foremost, humans. Every day, caregivers from all around the world experience different challenges in providing care to our parents and senior loved ones. With this ongoing routine, more often than not, most of them experience exhaustion and frustration that often leads to burnout. In this case, experts call it “compassion fatigue”.

In this article, we will learn more about compassion fatigue. We will also discuss how dementia caregivers are affected by it and the signs that your caregiver is already experiencing it.

Compassion Fatigue and your Caregivers

Experiencing burnout is common in most professions, but as a caregiver, it is more than that. Compassion fatigue is new to the profession but as time goes by, more and more caregivers are already experiencing it.

A licensed clinical social worker and owner of private counseling practice in New York and New Jersey, Ms. Christine Valentin define this phenomenon as “an extreme state of stress and tension that can result in feelings of hopelessness, indifference, pessimism and overall disinterest in other people’s issues”.

This compassion fatigue is known to be a secondary stress disorder that comes from your patient’s high level of emotional stress. In the studies conducted, results show that the most vulnerable people prone to compassion fatigue are the following: counselors, caregivers, nurses, some social workers, and correctional workers. These people are more prone to experiencing this because of their work environment.

In Valentin’s notes she explained that “While some may simplify and attribute compassion fatigue to frustration and/or resentment, it is important to understand that this is not something that occurs overnight”. She also added that compassion fatigue was the result of constant and continual times of managing caregiving responsibilities which were often unrecognized, apparently feels like it was endless, and lastly both emotionally and physically “demanding and exhausting”. Along with this line, it was easy for caregivers to feel the uncommon feelings of frustration and resentment as well as the reduced level of self-worth.

The difference between Caregiver Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

Developing compassion fatigue in dementia caregivers is not uncommon. This is usually due to dealing with the emotional needs of our loved ones suffering from dementia added on top of a list of what seems like a never-ending task. But as the service industry calls, most caregivers still carry on their tasks to care for our loved ones with dementia and other senior loved ones. But unlike caregiver burnout, compassion fatigue robs the caregivers of the ability to empathize for our loved ones in their care because of these circumstances.

This compassion fatigue according to Valentin can manifest through actions like neglect, and unintended hitting or hurting of our loved ones in their care. Anything that draws away from the caregiver’s typical behavior is now considered a result of compassion fatigue.

Note that this condition, although uncommon to many, is still happening in the caregiving industry especially with dementia caregivers. It is also vital that family members of these caregivers avoid throwing any kind of judgment to them. They are already enduring pain beyond any person can recognize, so a little consideration can mean no harm.

How to recognize and prevent compassion fatigue

Knowing and understanding the signs and symptoms of early compassion fatigue will make it easier for you to deal with them in the long run. Valentin suggests that dementia caregivers be more proactive. This, according to her is one of the best ways to battle compassion fatigue, or at the very least, avoid it from getting out of hand.  

Here are the early signs of compassion fatigue that you want to watch out for:

  • The feeling of heightened anxiety
  • Feeling uncharacteristic behaviors (e.g outbursts)
  • A lower level of patience towards everything
  • A cynical feeling and general hopelessness
  • A feeling of being increasingly intolerant
  • Getting extremely emotionally drained and overwhelmed
  • Indecisiveness
  • No energy to engage in conversation or the feeling of being unloved

If your caregiver shows any of these signs and symptoms, it is best to let them know immediately ask them for a time off to cater to themselves. As Valentin encourages, each caregiver should have at least five minutes of every day to themselves. This is for them to breathe and clear their mind to avoid a physical and mental breakdown while caring for our loved ones.

It is imperative for every person to take care of themselves in these times, especially when your profession requires giving care to others. Remember, you can’t give what you don’t have.

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