As lifespans continue to increase, aging adults are sometimes finding more challenges in their golden years. Health problems and mobility limitations may make it difficult to reside alone. Oftentimes, families elect to blend generations into one home. There can be many benefits in this living arrangement as opposed to assisted living settings. However, as adult children become caregivers, they may find themselves facing some challenges of their own. One of these potential challenges is compassion fatigue. Learn more about compassion fatigue and how to manage it:

Benefits and Challenges of Caregiving 

Having an older adult in the home, rather than in assisted living, can bring benefits for everyone involved. It allows a family to stay emotionally close. Grandparents may enjoy being able to connect with their grandchildren and can easily watch them grow up. Having people around to socialize and stay active with on a daily basis, can also help to maintain an older adult’s quality of life. Meanwhile, the family can also value this time together, while sharing family traditions and making fond memories.

Yet, these benefits do bring challenges. Many middle-aged adults are now considered to be in the ‘sandwich generation’ as they may find themselves with elders, grown-up children, and even youngsters in their home. While having up to four generations in the home may allow for memory-making, it can also make for stress and chaos. This can increase if the aging adult has more extensive health and caregiving needs. Some people may find themselves not fully equipped to provide adequate care.

The challenges associated with caregiving could be logistical in nature. A home may not be well-equipped for an older adult. A family may have limited time or a congested schedule. The challenges could be due to a limitation of knowledge, such that they may not know how to respond to the older adult’s specific health needs. Finally, the challenges can be emotional. It can be difficult to be a caregiver, especially if it becomes a full-time job. This can lead to something called compassion fatigue.

Causes and Consequences of Compassion Fatigue

Helpers in assisted living and caregivers at home can experience compassion fatigue as a result of their role. It takes physical, cognitive, and emotional energy to provide care to another person, whether the caregiving is a full-time job or not. Compassion fatigue happens in part because the person who is being cared for may be experiencing their own emotions or distress, and the caregiver can somewhat take on and absorb this energy, along with having their own personal reactions to the situation.

In some cases, compassion fatigue can look like ‘burn-out’ and in more extreme cases, it may appear almost as an emotional secondary trauma response that can have even more deleterious effects. Of course, it is ideal to recognize the signs of compassion fatigue early on before they get to the worst stages. With early recognition it may be possible to make adjustments and restore emotional wellness, before becoming so affected caregiving duties and even daily functioning are affected.

Compassion fatigue is more than just being physically and mentally tired, although these are certainly symptoms that will likely occur. It is also a loss in the ability to be compassionate towards others, especially the person for whom you might be providing care. Signs of compassion fatigue include mental preoccupation, difficulty concentrating, sadness, bottling up emotions, isolating, blaming others, apathy, lack of interest in activities, and turning to maladaptive coping, such as substance use.

Recognizing and Responding to Compassion Fatigue 

If you are in a caregiving position and recognize these symptoms in yourself, or if you can see these signs in someone else, it is important to respond to these as early as possible. The essential tool for preventing or recovering from compassion fatigue is self-care. A person must care for themselves, and keep themselves well, if they are to be in an ongoing position to care for other people. Without engaging in regular self-care, the brain will enact other not so helpful coping mechanisms.

Sometimes people balk at the idea of engaging in self-care. They may have been taught it is selfish in some way to look after themselves. However, this could not be farther from the truth. It is responsible to care for one’s self, if you intend to be in tip-top shape to care for other people. It is akin to putting the oxygen mask on yourself first, before others on an airplane. The idea is, if you pass out, you will not be able to help anyone. You must put yourself first, if you want to be in a good position to help others.

Self-care does not have to be difficult. It is about taking some time every day to tend to your own physical, cognitive, and emotional needs. It might be about getting enough sleep and good food. It might be about having fun activities to engage with, as a mental break from other responsibilities. It might be about having someone to talk to about your stressors. It might also be about setting boundaries around your time and attention, while expressing your own needs, to ensure you do not get overwhelmed.

Final Recommendations 

People in a caregiving role sometimes find that they need more than just self-care. They may need a respite and arrange for a break from their caregiving duties. Or, they may make the decision to have their loved one move into an assisted living community. In some cases, this may be the best option for all parties involve. If an aging adult needs specialized care, it may be in their best interest to reside in assisted living. By finding a nearby community, families can still have frequent and close contact, that might be even more meaningful when everyone is well taken care of and in their best mindset.

If you are looking for senior respite services or assisted living options, be sure to check out Quail Park Communities, with locations throughout the western United States.