Search This Blog

Thursday, June 14, 2012

“Compassion fatigue” and caregiver burnout

An article in last week’s National Post discussed “compassion fatigue” – a health risk that family caregivers too often experience.

The article describes the high potential for caregiver burnout, saying as the length of time of caregiving increases, the risk of burnout does as well. Dr. Jacqueline Brunshaw, the author of the article, provides tips for caregivers to protect their own health, like understanding the challenges of the situation, celebrating the good times had with the family member, and asking for help.

Caring for a high-needs senior in particular may stretch family caregivers beyond their capacity when there is only limited outside support. We have recently reported on the state of home care in Canada, both in Seniors in need, caregivers in distress, and our Progress Report 2012. We found that about 40-50% of seniors with the most complex health needs have distressed caregivers who report they are finding it difficult to continue to provide care, and that they have feelings of stress, anger, and depression.Home care is an integral part of the health care system, and in order to help ensure the best quality of life for seniors and avoid “compassion fatigue” by their caregivers, it must be supported and enhanced.  

Dr. Brunshaw lists 10 signs of caregiver burnout. If you recognize them in yourself or someone else, you may wish to discuss them with a professional:

1)    Feeling unusually tense, irritable or agitated with others
2)    Being irritable and angry towards the ill/disabled individual
3)    Feeling sad, tearful or dissatisfied with life in general
4)    Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed
5)    Withdrawal from friends and enjoyable activities due to loss of desire and/or energy
6)    Lowered immunity: getting sick more often and taking an unusually long time to recover
7)    Increased need for medications and/or use of drugs or alcohol
8)    Feeling out of control in attempts to manage your usual daily routine, with no sense of how to regain that control any time soon
9)    Trouble sleeping and/or disturbing dreams
10)  Change in appetite


  1. Burnout is a reality in every field. The key to being an effective caregiver is to have your own support team. As the head practitioner of newly opened chiropractic practice in Markham, Ontario, I rely greatly on the expertise and moral support of my team.

  2. As a parent of a young man living with various diagnoses (uncluding Autism, Attachment Disorder, ADHD, etc.), I have to focus on balancing/integrating every day. Because my (adult) son's IQ is over 70, he is disqualified from receiving any sort of residential support which leaves me as his fulltime, 24/7 care provider without respite.