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Avoiding Caregiver Burnout

Part of caring for your client means keeping personal distance so you can meet their needs without jeopardizing your own

Any Homecare of the Rockies caregiver will tell you, the reason they do the work is because they care and respect for the older adults they serve.

They want to help them live as independently and comfortably as possible. To do that, caregivers not only provide support and care, but also companionship. They get to know their clients’ routines and preferences, concerns and frustrations.

This kind of compassionate connection is an important part of caregiving, yet we also recognize that in order to continue to serve the seniors, we must also maintain clear professional boundaries.

Establishing clear boundaries is essential to a caregiver’s well-being. Without some professional distance, you are more likely to experience burnout, exhaustion, stress-related issues, hurt feelings and other physical and emotional conditions that can jeopardize your ability to do your job.

By keeping a clear sense of your caregiving roles and responsibilities you’ll be able to gently preserve the professional boundaries that make it possible for you to both connect and care for the older adult and take care for yourself.

How to Establish and Maintain Healthy Boundaries

Start by setting the tone for your relationship with the client by acting professionally. Show up prepared and on time, be courteous and respectful, bring your own lunch or food, and wear clean work-appropriate clothes or the agency uniform – at HomeCare of the Rockies caregivers wear a blue polo featuring our logo.

Then, look for ways to engage the older adult you are caring for. While, it’s okay to be friendly, the relationship won’t be like typical friendship, says Dr. Carol Spar, a licensed clinical psychologist who works extensively with seniors and their families and provides trainings and consultations for those who work with older adults in Longmont, Boulder, Louisville and Lafeyette.

A friendship implies a mutual give-and-take of information, support, and encouragement, she says. But caregiving should always be client-focused. The caregiver is there to help and engage the client; it isn’t up to the client to support the caregiver.

To insure that caregivers are maintaining their professionalism, Spar suggests they ask themselves: “Is my action serving the client in the best way?”

Or, “How does this action help the client?”

This kind of inquiry helps keep your personal opinions and feelings out of the way so that you can protect your emotional well-being and meet the senior’s needs, Spar says.

Boundaries Can Help You Cope with Upset

The caregiver/client relationship is a complex one. While older adults often bond with the caregiver and are grateful for their help, they may also lash out in frustration over the loss of their independence.

Dementia, and other medical conditions, as well as some medications, can also cause anxiety, moodiness and other emotional outbursts. A caregiver who is overly connected with a client, may experience hurt feelings or take these outbursts personally. This can make it hard to help the older adult.

But, with a clear boundary in place you’ll recognize that the senior’s outburst is symptomatic of the illness or circumstances and you’ll be able to provide compassionate care without feeling burdened or upset.

“A caregiver with clear boundaries will say something like ‘I know this is so upsetting for you, how can I help you deal with this? to an agitated client,” Spar says, instead of reacting with frustration.

Serving the client and keeping professional boundaries also means limiting how much personal information you share with the older adult, says Paul Nygren, HomeCare of the Rockies care manager and a former caregiver.

While it’s natural and appropriate to have casual conversation, it is not okay to share your personal concerns, challenges, or woes, he adds.

Even in casual conversation, such as when the older adult asks what you did over the weekend, it’s best to provide neutral answers and then engage the client by turning the conversation back to her experience, Spar says.

For example, you could say, “Yes, we had a good weekend, I enjoyed a drive in the mountains, did you ever do that with your family?” Or, “do you like to go on drives?”

Find Others to Share Your Experience

While you should not share your private information and feelings with the older adults you care for, it is essential that you do find others to talk to about on-the-job stresses.

Caregiving is a rewarding, yet demanding, job and to stay healthy and do it well, it’s essential that you take care of yourself and create a network of support.

Connecting with other caregivers, care managers, and counselors can be a helpful way to deal with the daily stress that comes with caregiving.

HomeCare of the Rockies is dedicated to supporting caregivers and frequently offers classes, get-togethers and other ways for caregivers to connect and support one another. And care managers are always on hand to talk with caregivers, Cameron says.

If you are looking for that kind of connection and professional support, call us at 720-204-6083 and learn how you can be a part of our team. As a community of care professionals dedicated to serving older adults, we are here to help other caregivers do the same.

And, establishing and maintaining clear professional boundaries is one important aspect of providing professional care that will protect both the older adult and the caregiver for a long time to come.

Guidelines to Help Maintain Professional Boundaries

  • Never accept payment or tips from the client. All business dealings should be managed by the agency who hires you.
  • Do not contact or meet the client during your off-shift hours.
  • Do not vent or discuss your problems or stresses with the older adult you are caring for.
  • Do not accept or give gifts, borrow items, or eat your client’s food.
  • Do seek support from other caregivers, care managers, counselors or others – NOT from the older adult you care for.
  • Keep your clients’ needs in mind. Ask yourself: “Are my actions serving the client’s needs in the best way?”

WARNING: If you are feeling angry, or as though you “don’t deserve” the way the client is treating you or behaving, you could be taking the relationship personally and this can put both you and the older adult in jeopardy.

Reach out for information and support immediately. Call and discuss the situation with your care manager as soon as possible, or reach out to HomeCare of the Rockies, 720-204-6083 for support and information about maintaining professional boundaries.


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