While we at Sunshine Retirement Living love sharing stories about the lighter side of senior life, now and then we need to take a look at some very serious issues and share how we are responding to them to make life better for our residents and their loved ones.
On such issue is a phenomenon known as Caregiver Burnout, which, according to WebMD, is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude -- from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Such burnout can occur when caregivers don't receive needed support from other family members or co-workers, or if they repeatedly exceed their physical or financial capabilities. Caregivers who are "burned out" may experience excessive amounts of fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression, and often feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.
These feelings can easily lead to a vicious cycle of desperation, helplessness, fear and exhaustion that can have very dangerous consequences.
One thing Sunshine has done recently to combat these consequences is to hire a new National Director of Health Services who has extensive experience on the subject of Caregiver Burnout. Ethelia Hines, RN, MSN, has been a health care practitioner specializing in Senior Living, Patient Care Systems and Change Management for more than 35 years. We’d like to thank her for taking the time to answer our questions on how to deal with Caregiver Burnout.
SRL: First of all, can you tell us what led you to your new position as our National Director of Health Services?
EH: First, I was not looking for a job. I had just started working for a medical start-up with the intentions of helping introduce their model to Assisted Living. One evening, I received a call from a long-lost friend and trusted colleague. He asked if I knew of a nurse “such as myself,” who might be interested in a new position with Sunshine. I, of course, played a little hard to get but had taken the bait by the end of the call. After meeting with the professional staff at Sunshine’s Home Office, I felt I wanted to be a part of the team. Several weeks later I heard from a friend, an Executive Director, I used to work with, who nicknamed me Sunshine. That’s when I made my decision; I knew it was meant to be. The rest is history.
SRL: Why do you see it as a good fit for you?
EH: My first visit was to our Hammond Glen community. I stayed on site and felt like I was in a 5-star hotel. The Executive Director even arranged for Ricky, who worked in Maintenance, to greet me every morning with my favorite coffee and a good morning hug! I think the hug and silver tray with fresh flowers, was Ricky’s special touch. I knew then I had made the right decision. I remember being asked in my interview why I wanted to come back to Assisted Living. I told them I missed walking into a community and being greeted by smiles and lots of hugs. Assisted Living offers nurses at all levels an opportunity to make a difference in so many lives, from the residents to the families to the staff. I feel fortunate to be part of this dynamic company and very happy to be a part of the Sunshine team who have made it home!
SRL: Tell us about your role with the company and what you envision it becoming.
EH: My role, of course, involves support for the Health Services Directors and development of the department systems, policies, and procedure. My primary responsibilities are for clinical risk management, regulatory and quality compliance, staff mentoring and staff training. I envision providing leadership to the care department by assisting in the design of state-of-the-art programs and systems that empower our staff to be the best that they can be. Great staff means great care. My first objective is to reduce inefficiencies and redundancies that get in the way of nurses and caregivers spending quality time with our residents and families.
SRL: Tell us about your exposure to Caregiver Burnout during your career and how you’ve been involved in dealing with it.
EH: I am often asked to facilitate family meetings most often for residents with dementia. I always find myself educating families about the disease and its progression. Many are in denial making it more difficult to convince them they need to take care of themselves. It is not uncommon for caregivers to personalize and internalize their loved one's behavioral changes. They can become angry and frustrated when their loved one refuses to take a shower or change their clothes or take their medications. It is understandable they feel they have failed at caregiving. When they understand it is the disease that is responsible for the resistance or lack of interest in what they use to do, and not their loved one, it becomes easier to forgive themselves and their loved one.
SRL: Are you seeing more evidence of Burnout in recent years? If so, why?
EH: Yes! As the incidence of dementia has grown there are more caregivers at home trying to balance work and children with care of a parent or both parents. It may also be an unhealthy, elderly spouse trying to care for a dependent loved one. Typically, there is a significant incident that brings them to assisted living, such as difficulty managing behaviors, wandering away from home, or causing a fire by leaving a pot on the stove. The most common reason families come to us is because the loved one is no longer safe at home.
SRL: What are some of the symptoms of Caregiver Burnout?
EH: Caregiver Burnout is a syndrome of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged exposure to excessive, stressful situations. It has been around for centuries given that caring for ailing and aging family members is nothing new. New approaches to addressing burnout have developed over the years through research and have been shared through professional associations. The evolution of the sandwich generation has brought the issue to another level with mothers and fathers caring for both aging parents their children, while holding down demanding jobs.
While we commonly see the burnout with caregivers of loved ones with dementia, it can be just as evident when caring for loved ones with physical and mental disabilities or those with prolonged end-of-life care. The most common symptoms are anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, overreaction to minor problems, new or worsening health problems.
Please check back for Part Two of our Caregiver Burnout Q&A with Ethelia Hines within the next two weeks.
*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living, May, 2018.