senior man with caregiver

As a seasoned Registered Nurse, “caregiver burnout” was the last thing I thought I might ever experience. For goodness sake, I worked as a Hospice RN, and had witnessed the emotional and sometimes physical collapse of family members who unremittingly cared for their loved one. I routinely taught family members how to avoid feeling burnout and what signs to look for in one other. Many times I intervened, finding outside support when a family member needed time to rest. I remained emotionally strong for the families when they felt hopeless and helpless.

A few years ago, the tables turned when I became the caregiver to my ninety-four year old mother who could no longer care for herself in her own home. We moved her into our spare bedroom and looked forward to the wonderful days we would spend together. She was neither bedbound, nor confused, and was fairly independent but unable to accomplish her daily activities without some assistance. I had high expectations for the care I wanted to give to her and rationalized that she would not be a burden. In addition to caring for her and caring for my own family, I continued working as the Director of a hospice company. As the months rolled along, I casually set aside my role as “nurse” and eased into the familiar role of “daughter”.

Almost suddenly, things began to get more difficult. She became forgetful and melancholy. She required increasing levels of assistance with daily tasks and while moving about. She began waking up numerous times during the night, calling out to me for help. Her eyesight diminished significantly, and she had several very hard falls with injuries. With all of the demands of work, family, and my mother, I became physically and mentally exhausted. It didn’t take long for my emotions to swing from one extreme to the other. I thought I was handling things fairly well, until one day when my 8 year old daughter asked, “Mom, why are you so tired and grouchy all of the time?” I was stunned. I had become the very person I had advised others against becoming.

Once I realized how exhausted I was, anger set in quickly. I was angry with myself that I had forgotten my role as a nurse, and had fallen into the role of exhausted caregiver. I was angry that I was not more capable of handling all that I had to do, and I was frustrated that my mother was declining. I confided in a good friend that I was no longer able to keep up the frantic pace. It was a courageous move on my part and was the first step to my “recovery”. Fortunately, my good friend was also an experienced RN working in hospice. She directed me to visualize my need for support and assisted me in formulating a plan. From past experience as a nurse, I knew that my recovery would not be easy or quick. Just as burnout had crept in slowly, the recovery back to my “normal” would be a slow process. However, I was headed in the right direction and I once again felt hope for my situation.

Watch for January’s blog post on signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout, ways to avoid it, and resources that offer support. If you are a home care provider, visit to learn more about how to help your caregivers stay motivated and happy.

vickiheadshot-[500x500]]Vicki Eckersel is a Bachelor’s prepared RN who believes that the power of patient-centered education has the ability to promote healing and well being. Her love of nursing runs deep over the past 20 years, through nearly every area of health care, including management. While her favorite hobby is being a mother, she often says that being an RN is a close second. Fortunately, the two blend well in a crazy home filled with nine wonderful people and one lovable dog. She hopes one day to combine her love of nursing with travel to serve those in need in foreign lands.