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Preventing Caregiver Burnout: Practical Strategies for OTPs

Preventing Caregiver Burnout: Practical Strategies for OTPs
Elisabeth Bahr, OTD, MS, OT/L
January 11, 2024

A therapist comforting a patient

The age-old adage, "One cannot pour from an empty cup," resonates with our caregiver clients.

Caregiver burnout is a cycle affecting a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Its symptoms can range from headaches, sleep disturbances, and anxiety to weight fluctuations, digestive issues, irritability, and increased muscle pain. 

While it's challenging to prevent this phenomenon entirely, occupational therapists can help provide strategies and resources that make a difference for both caregivers and their loved ones. 

To prevent caregiver burnout, start by considering your clients’ caregivers your secondary clients. After all, enhancing the quality of life for caregivers can influence the well-being of the primary clients they support.

To help caregivers, OTPs can promote these strategies:

  • Help caregivers identify and seek assistance from friends and family.
    • When caregivers are feeling overwhelmed, friends and family can provide respite and support. They can also help with practical needs that might go overlooked, such as cooking, cleaning, transportation to appointments, grocery shopping, and laundry. 
  • Advocate for the benefits of support groups and link caregivers to communities.
    • Many healthcare settings offer complimentary support groups for caregivers. These could be in-person or virtual and facilitated by a healthcare professional. Support groups can help caregivers gain encouragement, practical advice, and empathy from others who are going through similar experiences. 
  • Assist caregivers in carving out time for their physical well-being. Emphasize the importance of sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
    • Time can be a scarce resource for caregivers. OTPs can help caregivers find the time to care for their physical health. This helps to maintain their quality of life and reduce stress. As experts in sleep, medical management, and instrumental activities of daily living (such as meal preparation), OTPs can be among the first to intervene when a caregiver struggles with their wellness routine. 
  • Offer insights on stress management, share coping techniques, suggest journaling habits, and direct caregivers to therapy and mental health resources.
    • All caregivers are at risk for stress. OTPs can help them learn coping techniques and stress management strategies ton help mitigate burnout. OTPs can also connect caregivers to therapists and mental health resources or offer educational activities to support their social-emotional needs. 
  • Educate caregivers on setting boundaries, recognizing and fostering a social support network, and promoting a balanced approach to screen time and positive social media consumption.
    • The lure of screen time and social media can be hard to resist—especially when caregivers feel isolated. OTPs can help caregivers develop social support systems and a sense of community by suggesting ways to connect with family and friends, using technology to stay in touch, and keeping occupational balance between their caregiving duties and activities that are meaningful to them. 
  • Encourage spiritual practices, whether through prayer, meditation, time spent in nature, or visiting a sacred space.
    • Spiritual practices allow caregivers to practice their values and spirituality and connect with meaning. Many health and hospital systems offer spiritual care services that can help caregivers, such as clergy and dedicated caregiver rooms. 
  • Suggest fulfilling hobbies such as reading or creative endeavors. 
    • OTPs can use an interest inventory to help caregivers rediscover their hobbies or passions and find ways to integrate them into their daily routines. They can also connect the caregiver to resources in the community, like art studios, museums, or community gardens.
  • Facilitate dialogue about workplace accommodations, help with scheduling, and connect them to available financial assistance.
    • Caregiver stress can stem from financial insecurity and needing time off work. OTPs can connect caregivers with social workers and other resources to help them navigate financial and employment systems. 

While caregiver burnout is a multifaceted challenge, OTPs have the tools and knowledge to support and uplift caregivers. By connecting them to valuable strategies and resources, we enhance their quality of life and elevate the care they provide to their loved ones.

More on this topic can be found in the OccupationalTherapy.com course: Preventing Caregiver Burnout by Mira Rollins, OTR/L. 

elisabeth bahr

Elisabeth Bahr, OTD, MS, OT/L

Elisabeth Bahr is a writer, artist, and occupational therapist. She holds a master of science from NYU and a doctorate in occupational therapy from BU. She is currently a health writer, educator, and advocate. You can find her consulting work at pegasuswellness.co and her writing on Continued and around the internet.

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