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Caregiver Stress and Respite Care Options

23 Nov 2017

It is no secret that caregivers experience increased stress. Accepting the caregiver role and having to redefine your life as a result is a tall order. To remain helpful to your loved one, it is extremely important to be flexible and know the signs and origin of your stress. Every day will probably be different and you need to be able to adapt to changes in your family member or friend’s mental and physical condition. You also need to be aware of the respite care options that are available to help you manage your stress.

Acknowledging Caregiver Challenges and Emotions

Recognizing how you came to the role of caregiver can be the first step in overcoming caregiver stress. When it hasn’t been by choice, anger, impatience, and resentment can set in. Often, the fairness of the situation is in question. These are all common thoughts and feelings that caregivers can experience.

How did you get put into the caregiver role? Was it your choice, a perceived obligation, an attachment to the person, a sense of responsibility, a lack of formal supports, or all of the above? Caring for an older adult with dementia can be even more difficult, time consuming and frustrating because of cognitive impairments that a person with a physical illness may not have. There is no question that dealing with physical limitations is often less stressful than dealing with mental limitations. For specialized support in helping a family member or friend who has a dementia, the Alzheimer Society is an excellent resource.

Caregiver stress can be caused by a number of factors, such as:

  • The behaviour and attitude of the person you are caring for

  • The physical and emotional components of care

  • Adjusting to working and caregiving

  • Changes in social activities and normal schedules

  • Financial costs and problems

  • Adjustments of caregiving within the family

  • Changes in relationships with family members, friends, coworkers, people in your community, and so on.

Respite Care for Caregivers

If you can recognize these factors early on and identify what is causing your stress, you can take steps to relieve them and enhance your ability to manage, both personally and through respite care options. This is extremely important if you’re going to avoid burnout. Options for respite care may include support groups and home care services.

While it’s easy to get too busy to recognize when stress is setting in, there are noticeable changes in our behaviour and mental health that are sure signals that you might be living with too much stress. Keep these in mind and you’ll enhance your chance of identifying and dealing with it early.

Warning Signs of High Stress


Headaches, lower or higher appetite, loss of weight, gaining weight, fatigue and feeling tired all the time, lack of sleep, insomnia, muscle aches, often getting sick, sweaty palms


Anger, sadness or crying spells, short temper, irritability, sense of hopelessness, sense of helplessness, anxiety, discouragement, inability to concentrate, depression


Increased use of drugs or alcohol, trouble concentrating, avoiding decisions, trouble getting motivated, forgetfulness, boredom, over-reacting, acting on impulse


Marital problems, intolerance of others, impatience, little or no contact with friends, loneliness, resentment, lowered libido

Table adapted from Jolly, C.D. (1996). Stress taking charge: All about stress.