Every day in their treatment rooms, physicians encounter individuals who are making profound sacrifices to help a loved one who is seriously ill, often at the expense of their own well-being. To help physicians understand the day-to-day challenges and risk of burnout faced by informal caregivers, the American Medical Association (AMA) has published Caring for the Caregiver: A Guide for Physicians.
As more people live longer and become sick, frail or disabled from chronic diseases, their care is often shouldered by relatives, partners, friends and neighbors. Caring for a loved one can be meaningful and rewarding, but this immense responsibility can take a toll. Caregiver burnout occurs when individuals feel overwhelmed and alone, physically exhausted and emotionally fatigued.
"The AMA recognizes that assisting a loved one who needs help with medical and personal tasks can be a daunting job, leaving the caregiver physically exhausted and emotionally drained," said AMA President David O. Barbe, M.D., M.H.A. "The new AMA guide provides an important resource to help physicians support and guide caregivers to do their best to cater to their loved ones, while being responsible for their own health too."
A survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare found almost 25 percent of informal caregivers providing more than 40 hours of care per week report their own health has deteriorated as a result of providing care, and more than half of surveyed caregivers report their health decline has affected their ability to provide care.
The guide warns that once an individual begins to feel the effects of caregiver burnout, it becomes difficult to care for themselves, as well as the patient in their charge.
Common signs of caregiver burnout include:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired often
- Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
- Gaining or losing weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in preferred activities
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
Overwhelmed caregivers are often reluctant to seek assistance. By encouraging physicians to understand the challenges and strain of caring for a seriously ill loved one, the AMA seeks to help physicians appreciate these often complex situations and provide informal caregivers with practical and helpful resources.