Combating Caregiver Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

Healthcare providers have agreed when entering the healthcare profession to give the utmost care to all patients and families. They have dedicated their time and energy to assure all patients are cared for the way the want and need to be treated. Many endless hours are provided to assure that quality and empathetic care is given, which can often end up in what is called compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout.

There are warning signs to both issues that healthcare providers can be on the lookout for to lessen the risk of developing caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue and strategies and resources that can help the healthcare professionals and caregivers to overcome it. Caregiver burnout is when healthcare professionals or caregivers experience a sense of being overwhelmed with their job duties and responsibilities. Caregiver burnout makes the healthcare professionals or caregivers feel that they can no longer endure the demands of the everyday needs of the patients or family members.

It causes signs and symptoms in professionals that change the way they look and feel about their profession. Caregiver burnout causes a sense of work instead of passion that most healthcare professionals sought out to have in the healthcare settings. Family members that choose to care for their loved ones begin to develop symptoms of lack of interest and motivation. They begin to question if they have the ability to continue to care for their loved ones at home and may feel that it is more of a struggle then that of a caring response.

The overwhelming demands that both the healthcare professionals and caregivers encounter can sometimes cause both physical and emotional burdens upon themselves. They are more involved in assuring that the patients and family members have the quality of care that they deserve and forget that they need to remember that themselves have needs and wants that must be maintained for a healthy lifestyle. (American Heart Association [AHA], 2012) When healthcare professionals and caregivers start to experience symptoms of burnout many negative consequences can occur to both the healthcare professional, the caregiver and/or the patient.

Healthcare professionals and caregiver burnout needs to be identified early to avoid these negative consequences. A common form of caregiver burnout is further discussed below. Compassion fatigue is a form of caregiver burnout which occurs when there is emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral and/or spiritual exhaustion for caregivers or healthcare professionals when caring for patients and/or loved ones. “Compassion fatigue is caused by empathy. It is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people.

” (Portnoy, 2011, p. 49) Many different healthcare providers can experience compassion fatigue. It is often seen in caregivers in the emergency room, hospice and palliative care, oncology centers and long term care facilities but can occur in any specialty area at any time. (Lombardo & Eyre, 2011) Unfortunately, with the overwhelming demands in todays’ healthcare, compassion fatigue is becoming more and more prevalent. Caregivers need to be aware of the warning signs of caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue.

“Definitions of burnout more often point to environment stressors, whereas definitions of compassion fatigue address the relational nature of the condition. ”(Potter RN et al. , 2010, p. 57) Some of the warning signs include but are not limited to: low self-esteem, the failure to balance empathy with objectivity, increased irritability, sleep disturbances, inability to concentrate, having apathy and/or guilt, questioning one’s own self-worth or meaning in life, overuse of alcohol or drugs, chronic or frequent headaches or increase in pain or discomfort within themselves and/or signs and symptoms of depression.

(Portnoy, 2011) Sometimes healthcare professionals and/or caregivers may start to exhibit signs and symptoms of abuse by neglecting the needs of the patients or family members, rough handling them whether it is knowingly or unknowingly. These are all very serious symptoms that need to be recognized early to prevent further complications to the healthcare workers themselves or the patients that they are caring for. There are many causes of caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue.

Many family members are taking the responsibility for caring for their loved ones in the homes d/t the demands of todays’ economy and the cost of healthcare facilities. The cost of healthcare continues to rise and the ability to maintain healthcare coverage is getting harder and harder for a lot of Americans. Another cause is that many religions, spiritual beliefs and traditions involve caring for the sick and elderly by family members in the home.

For professionals the majority of the causes of caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue are related to the shortage of healthcare professionals and the turnover rates that the healthcare industry is experiencing. Many healthcare professionals and caregivers are working longer, harder hours to assure that the patients and families continue to receive the loving, compassionate, quality of care that is needed to treat the patients mind, body and spirit.

Some may find that they need to work the extra hours to keep their family financially fit. These are just some of the many causes out there that cause caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue in todays’ society. Although caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue is on the rise, there are ways that healthcare professionals and caregivers can avoid or lessen the risks of becoming a victim themselves. Healthcare professionals and caregivers must understand the relationship with self.

They must be able to express their own needs and wants and be able to achieve their own work-life balance. Healthcare workers and caregivers must take time for their own well-being and identify what is important to them and assure that their needs are being maintained. Healthcare professionals and caregivers need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue and know what they can do if they start to experience any of the signs and symptoms.

Some easy solutions include finding someone to talk to about the frustrations that one is experiencing, exercise regularly, eat a well-balanced diet, and assure that they are getting quality sleep and to take time off away from the identified stressors to rebalance the mind, body and spirit. Many resources are available to healthcare professionals and caregivers.

Many employers are now implementing the Employee Assistance Program also known as EAP in efforts to assist employees and their families with ways to overcome their day to day stressors and provide them ways keep healthier and happy. Other resources may include having a mentor or counselor to set up a personalized assessment and intervention plan to identify strategies to help cope with the current situations.

Many healthcare settings and community based settings offer caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue seminars to educate on healthy living strategies and ways to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue. The most important way that healthcare providers and caregivers can give compassionate, empathetic, quality of care to their patients is to care for their own selves first. “It is vital that individual nurses, nursing leaders, and healthcare facilities work together to find the answers so as to prevent/alleviate compassion fatigue.

” (Portnoy, 2011, p. 1) Caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue can be avoided but everyone must understand the signs and symptoms of it and understand how to avoid it or what they can do combat it if it should occur. One cannot stress enough the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Healthcare professionals as well as family members caring for their loved ones means so much to the patients and family members that they care for and must remember that they are as important as the persons that they are caring for.

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