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Caregiver stress and burnout: 3 tips for family caregivers

A non-profit social service agency and caregivers share practical tips on how to practise self-care and seek support.

Caregivers burnt out from giving care to family members
How to reduce stress and prevent burnout as a caregiver in your family (Photos: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE - In Singapore's rapidly ageing population, many individuals take on the role of caregivers to support their ageing parents, grandparents, or other elderly relatives.

While caregiving is a noble and compassionate act, it comes with its fair share of challenges and hardships, which include physical, emotional, and financial tolls.

A study last year conducted by Milieu Insight and Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL), reported that 51 per cent of primary caregivers reported feeling stressed ‘often or all the time’. Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of caregivers surveyed also expressed not having enough support for their caregiving responsibilities.

This was echoed by executive director of Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH), Ngo Lee Yian, in a media release last November, who said that caregiver stress has become "more pronounced".

Caregivers shoulder immense responsibilities, often juggling their own careers, personal lives, and emotional well-being, alongside their caregiving duties.

How can caregivers reduce stress, prevent burnout and get the help they need?

Here are some tips from Karen Poh, Head of Engagement & Empowerment at CAL, a non-profit organisation in Singapore that empowers caregivers of persons with mental health issues in Singapore.

1. Prioritise self-care

The first step is to acknowledge one's stress. In doing so, caregivers can take the necessary steps to deal with it and prioritise self-care.

Poh understands that caregiving can be a "taxing and seemingly endless journey".

As such, she recommends setting aside dedicated time for self-care and mindfulness exercises, to tend to one's physical, emotional, and mental needs as an essential practice.

Things one can do include having a well-balanced diet, getting sufficient rest, engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfilment to replenish emotional reserves, and incorporating exercise in one's daily routine.

"By taking care of themselves, caregivers can better support those in their care and maintain their own overall wellbeing," she said.

2. Lighten the burden by seeking help and support

As caregiving can sometimes be an isolating experience, it can be helpful for caregivers to share the load.

Poh warns against adopting the mindset that caregivers should shoulder the entire burden of caregiving on oneself.

"Seeking help and support from other family members or caregivers is not a sign of weakness, it is a practical approach to managing responsibilities effectively and sustainably."

When involving other family members or caregivers, Poh encourages clear communication amongst involved parties for shared understanding.

She recommends aligning the rules or guidelines for a "cohesive" caregiving experience. Some considerations include understanding the care recipient's needs, preferences, and any specific care instructions.

Other sources of support include seeking professional help, or finding a community for emotional support and practical advice.

Ngo also believes that practical and emotional support can help caregivers "achieve better health status" by allowing them to take breaks from duties, and find time for self-care.

Imran Wee, a caregiver to his 83-year-old mother with dementia, found his emotional support through CAL's free Caregivers-to-Caregivers (C2C) Programme.

The group course offers psychosocial education for caregivers to learn how to better empathise and communicate with loved ones with dementia, and understand how to care for themselves and their own emotional needs.

41-year-old Wee found comfort in not having to be told to "suck it up" and "be patient" when voicing his experiences and struggles of caring for his mother. He has been a caregiver to her, since his release from prison in 2019 for drug trafficking.

Wee also found inspiration and comfort in seeing caregivers from all walks of life coming together to share stories through mutual understanding.

"I felt like I had been wandering alone for so many years and had finally found my tribe," he said.

An Asian woman caregiver sharing and getting emotional support in a group setting
A caregiver sharing and getting emotional support in a group setting (Photo: Getty Images)

3. Create a structured routine and manage expectations

Lastly establishing a routine and managing one's expectations can helping caregivers maintain their personal well-being and fulfil their responsibilities.

"You cannot expect the person you’re caring for to change. A person with dementia is not going to get better, and in order for us to both be happier, I had to adjust my expectations," said Wee.

Having a routine can be highly beneficial for both the caregiver and the care recipient, particularly for individuals with dementia.

Poh added that a structured routine brings a "sense of order and familiarity", reducing confusion and anxiety for both caregivers and their loved ones.

The routine should taken into account the level of cognitive impairment of the care recipient to make sure it is "suitable and manageable".

The routine can also include engaging the services of senior care centres, which can provide social connection and physical activities for elderly loved ones, to slow down cognitive deterioration.

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