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Fighting Caregiver Fatigue

By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 3)

Lack of sleep can affect emotional as well as physical health. It can produce anxiety, anger, irritability, affect concentration and task performance, impair judgment to the point of danger (driving, using machinery and administering medications), and impact job performance. Sleep deprivation can lead to mental distress, memory loss, and depression. One male caregiver reported that the emotional fatigue was greater for him than the physical exhaustion. He explained that his wife’s behaviors (for example, false accusations, memory loss, hallucinations, and repetitive statements) often lead to daily arguments and disrupted routines that drained his emotions. He finally learned, over time, that he had to train himself to ‘pick his battles’ in order to avoid arguing as well as ignore some of his wife’s peculiar responses and redirect their daily conversations.

The physical consequences of sleep deprivation can include changes in appetite (weight gain or loss), frequent infections, addictions to alcohol or prescription drugs, problems with focusing, droopy eyelids and increased sensitivity to pain. In addition, lack of sleep can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate insulin production and the metabolism of sugar, putting caregivers at a higher risk of developing diabetes.

There are several ways that caregivers can take steps to fight fatigue and improve their physical and mental health.

  1. Recognize that fatigue is present and that it is negatively affecting daily life.

  2. Seek solutions to alleviate fatigue and sleep loss.

  3. Carry out these solutions with the help of family, friends or hired services.

One caregiver in a support group shared that she actually used respite care in her home to get a much-needed nap three times a week. Another woman asked family members to stay overnight once or twice a week to allow her a full night of rest. An important consideration is for caregivers to step back, set personal limits and encourage the care receiver to perform some of their own self-care activities. As time goes on, it can be easy to over-help and invite greater dependence by the care receiver. Others found, when they finally accepted outside help, they experienced a strong sense of relief. Most caregivers wished they had taken the help much sooner. In some cases, when 24-hour care is no longer achievable, moving a loved one to an assisted living facility or to a nursing home is the best solution.

Caregivers, as well as care receivers, need a well-balanced diet and adequate hydration during the day to stave off fatigue and vulnerability to illness. Try to avoid large meals, high fat foods and the drinking of fluids before bedtime. Taking vitamins, eating proteins, grains and fresh produce and decreasing sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can also promote wellness. Caffeine is a mild stimulant and consuming it before bedtime can affect sleep. It is also a diuretic and will result in an increased need to urinate during the night. Alcohol is a depressant by classification; however, it does cause a person to sleep lighter and awaken more frequently.

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