For those who care for someone with Parkinson's disease

Parkinson's disease Caregiver Commentary

Preventing Caregiver Burnout
By Susan Hamburger

Editors Note: Susan was caregiver to her husband Stan, diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1980. He passed away on August 12, 2008 at the age of 73.

In a recent column, I discussed the stages of caregiver burnout to help us recognize if we experience these feelings. Caregiver burnout is very common, and we need to pay attention to where we are so we can try to prevent the next more serious stage of caregiver burnout. Remember, the stages are frustration, then depression and finally despair.

In this column, I'd like to make some suggestions to help prevent the depression and despair stages of burnout as much as possible. I am speaking from 21 years of caregiver experience with Parkinson's disease. It is so vital to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings as this disease progresses so you will be able to be there in a healthy state of mind for your loved one when they need you the most.

I think the one thing that helps me the most, and it may be different for other people, is exercise. I do low impact aerobics and yoga at least two times a week, and I know that it helps me to relieve stress and always lifts any feelings of depression that I have. Sometimes I have to really force myself to do it, but I also know that afterwards I will feel better.

The next thing that helps me a great deal over time is getting some relief. I am fortunate to be able to have Whittley, who comes four days a week for four hours, but if that is not a possibility for you, it's really important to get family, friends, neighbors, or anybody who is willing to relieve you of caregiver responsibilities, for a few hours at least. During those times I try to do the things that I WANT to do. It might be shopping, walking, errands, visiting with friends, writing columns or letters, surfing the Internet, reading, or ANYTHING that I feel like doing that helps me to feel like I live a normal life. That is really important for me, and I'm sure it is for all caregivers.

These two things have helped me personally avoid serious burnout. There are many other things that help:

About the Author
Susan Hamburger earned a Bachelors Degree from the University of Wisconsin in Elementary Education, and two Master's Degrees, in Educational Psychology and Biostatistics/ Epidemiology. She has been a kindergarten teacher, a school psychologist, and retired as Biostatistician at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Susan has served on the Board of local Parkinson's disease support group organizations since the early 1990's. She has served Chair of the Patient Services Committee, Vice-President and President of the Washington DC area chapters of the Amercican Parkinson's Disease Association and the National Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Susan has also spent many hours on Capitol Hill, lobbying our Senators and Representatives to increase the funding for Parkinson's disease research.

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