The Role of the Caregiver

March 9, 2023

Dementia: Who Cares for the Caregiver?, Valley Health System, Las Vegas, Nevada.Unfortunately, most people with advanced dementia cannot live independently. Family caregivers serve the essential role of helping dementia patients perform their daily activities, but it is oftentimes a difficult and stressful job. People living with dementia may express aggression, rage and even psychotic behavior.

“Involvement in the person's care increases substantially as the disease advances from early to middle to late stages. Care may be required 24 hours a day,” says Dr. Uzma Zafar, former medical director of the geropsychiatric department at Desert Springs Hospital . “It's important to support the person as much as possible, but caregivers should also be mindful of their own health and wellbeing.”

Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver responsibilities can lead to caregiver burnout, a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It is characterized by overwhelming fatigue, sleep problems, changes in appetite, weight loss or weight gain, feelings of hopelessness or loss of interest in activities.

“I think the interesting thing in those particular symptoms is that they are often almost identical to some of the symptoms we commonly see when diagnosing clinical depression,” notes Chris Bateman, former director of the geropsychiatric program at Desert Springs Hospital.

Bateman describes five causes of caregiver burnout:

  • Losing the ability to separate roles as caregiver and family member
  • Unrealistic expectations about loved one’s condition improving
  • Lack of control, especially in respect to decreased money, resources and skills to manage loved one’s care
  • Unreasonable demands caregivers place upon themselves
  • Lack of privacy or a personal life

Preventing Caregiver Burnout

Bateman advises the number-one strategy for caregivers to prevent burnout is to ask for help. This can be difficult sometimes, but it’s absolutely necessary for caregivers to take breaks — and give themselves permission to take breaks.

“The most important thing is to take care of yourself. Appetite, sleep and exercise are crucial. You’ve got to make sure your own needs are met before you can do it for somebody else,” he says.

Even just waking up 15 minutes earlier each day for some alone time to read, have a cup of coffee or meditate can make a significant difference. Another tactic is to make a list of daily activities or tasks to help give yourself a sense of direction and accomplishment.

“It's a matter of recognizing your own limits. It is not a sign of weakness or caring less to need respite. And for those who are around caregivers, be particularly mindful of the challenges that go along with it,” urges Bateman.

*The geropsychiatric program at Desert Springs Hospital has relocated to Spring Mountain Treatment Center in Las Vegas.