7 ways to avoid caregiver burnout

December 18, 2023 | by Endeavor Health

People going through cancer treatment often rely on family members and friends to help them through the worst of times, whether that’s driving to appointments and holding hands during treatment, or more intense daily caregiving.

Caregivers, such as a spouse, adult child, parent or best friend, usually want to do all they can for their loved one battling cancer. But it’s not uncommon for people in the throes of taking care of someone else to lose sight of their own needs, ultimately risking burnout or worse consequences for their own health.

“You notice it right away with the people who are very sick, most of them have someone with them at every appointment, typically a spouse or adult daughter,” said hematology and oncology specialist Joseph Kash, MD, who noted that the wear on those caregivers can be significant.

Some ways to avoid caregiver burnout include:

  1. Social work support. This type of support through the hospital cancer center, offered at all Endeavor Health locations, is a great place to start for vital support and connection to other resources. “We have such good social work support, almost every patient will touch base with them at some point,” said Dr. Kash. The social work team can often quickly determine the best way to assist individuals and their caregivers and direct them to the most appropriate resources.
  2. Counseling and support groups. “One-on-one counseling can be very helpful to many family members, and support groups often help people understand they are not alone,” said Dr. Kash. Counselors and support groups can provide a safe environment — away from the daily stress of a sick family member — to discuss a variety of problems and worries related to caregiving.
  3. Caregiver benefits. Often, caregivers are struggling to stay on top of regular life, holding down jobs, paying bills etc. and may not even realize there are options and benefits like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), financial assistance and other benefits that can help lessen burdens. Social work can help people explore options and connect them to tangible resources for help, suggested Dr. Kash.
  4. Home health referrals. These are another important source of help that some caregivers may not have thought of in the midst of their busyness and stress. Practical help, like a visiting caregiver that can give a family member a break for a few hours, and medical equipment like a hospital bed or lift that can make physical tasks of caregiving much easier, are important resources.
  5. Asking for help. “Convincing a caregiver that it’s not a failure to ask for help can be hard, but it’s important they understand that having some help gives them the opportunity to provide the best care possible,” said Dr. Kash. “We know it’s important to take time for yourself, it’s the old notion of you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help anyone else,” he added.
  6. Practicing self-care. The level of stress related to extending caregiving can lead to real depression and other serious health consequences. “Caregivers can start neglecting their own health, skipping regular screenings or dental appointments as they feel they don’t have enough time. It’s so important for them to prioritize their own health too, taking time to exercise and get enough sleep. It may feel impossible, but ultimately it will help make them stronger,” said Dr. Kash. “There are resources available.”
  7. Community resources. Connecting with community whether it’s a church group or a club is another viable source of strong support. “We know women are often better at asking for help than men, but we all have to be open to support from others,” said Dr. Kash. The American Cancer Society is another source of resources for caregivers.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.

Learn more about cancer support services at Endeavor Health Cancer Institute.

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