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8 Red Flags That an Alzheimer's Caregiver Needs a Break

Alzheimer's caregiver needs break
Caregiving — especially full-time — requires tremendous physical effort, even in the disease's early stages.

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How to tell if you're bound for burnout

Stress and burnout are the most common problems for those who care for someone with Alzheimer's disease. And, in turn, caregiver stress — the emotional strain of tending to a loved one — is one of the biggest reasons people with the disease enter nursing facilities.

Take stock of your stress level by asking yourself whether you're experiencing any of the following emotional and physical symptoms. For an even better reality check, have your partner or other loved one answer the questions for you to see what someone close to you thinks.

There's no formula for defining your stress level, but if your yes answers outnumber your no answers, or if just two or three of the categories seem to apply to you, consider taking steps to ease your situation.


1. A short fuse

  • Do you lose your temper easily?
  • Do you feel angry with your parent?
  • Do you feel irritable toward other family members or find yourself snapping at them?

One of the more obvious signs of caregiver stress is losing your cool easily. Frustration may particularly increase when obstacles or challenges come up, whether major or minor.

2. Emotional outbursts

  • Do you cry often or unexpectedly?
  • Do you experience feelings of despair?
  • Do you have dramatic mood swings?

It's natural to grieve as your parent's condition declines. It's also normal to feel a complicated range of emotions about having to parent your parent. But if you're increasingly emotional or feeling emotionally fragile, there may be something more going on.

Depression is a real risk for caregivers. Even if you're not clinically depressed, emotional outbursts can be an unconscious outlet for feelings of being overwhelmed.

3. Sleep problems

  • Do you have trouble falling asleep?
  • Do you have trouble staying asleep?
  • Do you wake up tired?

Caregiving -- especially full-time -- requires tremendous physical effort, even in the disease's early stages. But if your parent is sundowning, wanders, or has disrupted sleep, you lose opportunities to rest on top of the tiring work you do all day. Trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep can also be caused by stress, anxiety, and depression.

4. Significant weight change

  • Have you recently gained weight?
  • Have you recently lost weight?

For some people, stress can result in weight loss when they can't seem to find time to eat adequately or nutritiously. Anxiety often lowers the appetite as well. For others, feeling stressed or guilty leads to weight gain from mindless or emotionally triggered eating, frequent snacking, or quick but unhealthy food choices. Changes in eating and sleeping habits can also indicate depression.

If your weight has changed by more than five or ten pounds since you began caring for your parent, your body may be sending you a signal that you need help.

5. Lethargy

  • Is it difficult to get motivated to accomplish things?
  • Do you feel sluggish even after a good night's rest?
  • Is it hard to concentrate when you read or perform other mental tasks?
  • Do you feel bored?

Caring for someone with Alzheimer's involves constant vigilance and activity. So if you feel "off" instead of "on," it's hard to perform your duties adequately. It may be that you find parts of the caregiving puzzle more challenging than others -- for example, managing your parent's finances or other health concerns.

Sometimes the routines that people with Alzheimer's thrive on can become stifling to a healthy adult child. Routines do help you and your parent get through the day more easily, but they can leave you feeling like you're stuck in a monotonous rut.

6. Physical ailments

  • Do you get headaches often?
  • Have you had colds one after another?
  • Does your back or neck ache, or do you have other chronic pain
  • Have you developed high blood pressure?

Mental and emotional stress can cause physical disorders. For example, stress can lead to headaches that are more frequent, more persistent, or stronger than you're used to. Under stress, your body is in a constant state of alert, which can cause your body to produce excessive amounts of the hormone cortisol, which can have many effects. You'll also lack the time or inclination to properly take care of yourself, setting the stage for more stress. Caregivers under stress may also find themselves suffering from high blood pressure or more frequent stomachaches, cold symptoms, muscle aches, or other health problems.

7. Social isolation

  • Do you sometimes go a whole day without seeing another adult aside from your parent?
  • Have you dropped out of your usual activities to care for your parent?
  • Can you remember the last time you had a whole day to yourself?
  • Do you feel like nobody understands?
  • Do you sometimes feel that other family members don't care as much about your parent's fate as you do?

Getting out can simply be hard if you're responsible for providing care. You may feel you lack the time for your former pursuits. Your parent's changes in behavior may also make you feel embarrassed or make going out in public too onerous to attempt. Whether intentionally or not, you may become withdrawn. Unfortunately, social isolation itself contributes to stress, whereas being with others and taking time for yourself are both replenishing.

8. Complaints from family

  • Have you been accused of being a "control freak"?
  • Have you been told you don't spend enough time with your partner or children?
  • Are arguments with siblings over your parent's care on the rise?

It's a common caregiver temptation -- and mistake -- to take on the entire burden of care. It's also easy to make ourselves think that we have everything under control or that things aren't so bad. Denial is a powerful emotion. When you're in the thick of things, it can be hard to see other ways of doing it. Listening to an outsider can be healthy, even if you don't agree. What may sound like a criticism or complaint may have a nugget of truth that relates to your emotional well-being.

Alzheimer's care can become all-consuming. It's a bit like the frog who stays in the pot of water as the heat is turned up bit by bit; it doesn't realize it's in hot water until it's too late. Every Alzheimer's caregiver eventually needs assistance -- usually sooner rather than later, and usually from a variety of sources.

If you need a hand, know that plenty of forms of help are available. You can make changes in your care routine, enlist the part-time efforts of friends and family, tap into community resources, and hire assistance as well. No Alzheimer's caregiver can go it alone well. And they shouldn't try -- for their sake and their parent's.

Last revised: November 11, 2010

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. April 26, 2021 at 12:44 pm | Posted by Diana Wearne

    Love to you all. People talk about “getting help” and not trying to do it all yourself” but I often feel that they are just using fake caring to be judgemental and to once again blame the caregiver for being a martyr and “not allowing or asking for help” and “not taking care of yourself first.” Siblings excuse their own lack of helping by using these methods. I have been called controlling so many times but I think “ what am I controlling?” Theres’s nobody else here to control! My mum is too awful in her Alzheimer’s to be cared for by others. Caregivers quit within one to two shifts and meds just knock her out, they don’t alter her mood. If she goes into an institution they will just over medicate her to keep her compliant and she really will just be shelved until she dies. So she is home. And we have good times along with lots of bad. And she is living to the best of her ability because we provide a safe and loving and stimulating and respectful place for her. And I feel like she deserves that because she was an extraordinary, loving and wonderful woman and mother. But, yes, I am burned out. And there are no easy answers. Love to you all!❤️


  2. March 9, 2020 at 12:24 am | Posted by John

    I feel like the help I give my parents is not enough, yet what I do goes unrecognized, puts my job at risk, and wears me out. I have tolerated insults, blown tons of money, and seen things I can’t unsee. My siblings and I are fighting. My oldest sibling has taken authoritarian control, won’t let anyone help more, but complains no one is helping and yet is in denial about parents situation. Keeps us in the dark. Everything is scattered including finances and property and healthcare. I feel guilty, under appreciated, verbally abused, exhausted yet sleepless, losing hope. I feel like hiring a lawyer to mediate.


  3. July 12, 2019 at 7:53 pm | Posted by Billie Hunt

    I have been hospitalized with care giver break down. First, I cared for my mother starting when my dad died until 2 years ago. She was 65 when he died and I gradually did more and more for her. Then, when she was 90, I moved her to our home. That worked out for 3 years and then she got sick and went to the hospital. From there to the care center and I still was there all the time so she wouldn’t feel like I didn’t care. Before she died, my older sister got stomach cancer and she died. After Mom passed away at age 98, her sister died. Then I started taking care of my husband and he got worse and worse until I had the break down. I had ECT while I was


  4. June 16, 2019 at 1:54 pm | Posted by Lisa

    Hi Connie, I am at the same stage with my dad, except my nephew gives me 2 hours twice a week to do errands dad won't go on with me. We had to install alarms and I slept on the house entryway floor to prevent him from walking out alone. He got very sick, so we had hospice and they guide us through giving him regular sleep aides. That resolved a lot of the aggression. Good luck, let me know how that works.


  5. June 13, 2019 at 9:54 pm | Posted by Barbara Stack

    I always wonder when I read the stories of caregivers I wonder if they ever think of the parents they are caring for and what they went through when they were caring for them My daughter cares for me and she did not get married until 40 years We went through a lot of problems and I never got "burned out" I am 92 years and living in Assisted Home I can't go to her home because of verbal abuse from her "husband" She defends him instead of me I would have never allowed my husbands (2) to talk to my mother like she does


  6. June 12, 2019 at 2:29 pm | Posted by Lin Novak

    Thank you for sharing your difficult life situations. Know that, after reading these messages, I will be praying for God's peace to replace your exhaustion and stress. May you each sense His wonderful comfort and care. Is there anyone in your church family who can give you an occasional break? Don't hesitate to ask your pastor about this.


  7. January 15, 2019 at 11:44 pm | Posted by Barbara

    I am a caregiver of a spouse with health issues and dementia and does not walk and has no balance. I get barely any help and cannot afford $20.00 a hour and more for care from outside. I have been doing this for almost 13 years and yes I am tired, burnout and yet must keep going. To take time for me is very hard. I get a few hours thru the VA and that is when I can grocery shop or run an errand so it is not always me time. I read this article and I have to laugh because so much is true but if you can not afford to hire care and there is no body else then you keep going to you drop. We belong to a church and I have had to give up quite a bit I go Sun morning to Worship and Choir, our daughter who works full time with a family helps on Choir evening. These articles all say hire a caregiver and get help so you can get a break and this just does not happen for many of us. Thank you for all the advice. My husband is in a wheelchair and can barely get up and down. You do not want me to begin with my health issues that are only getting worse because I do my best to lift and take care of him. I know I am fighting a nursing home but again a expense.


  8. March 21, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Posted by Eric

    All of the above. I need a break.


  9. October 27, 2013 at 9:30 pm | Posted by connie

    I think I am having almost all of these, my Mom is 81, I keep her every night and my sister and law and neice during day. I hold a full time job and have a family. It has been ok til the last couple of months she is having aggressive behaviors, running down our long driveway, fights when I bath her , gave up and just do sponge baths now, I am a long time nurse and worked with elderly a lot but this is different she is my Mom, I feel guilty when I have to stop her from hurting herself. Crying almost daily, not sleeping worrying she might be getting up, not eating because I am trying to get her to eat during meals, and no social life except Church, I am still able to take her there, but can't take her to eat with us anymore she gets too upset. I am so stressed but Nursing Home is not an option at the moment, and money is tight.


  10. August 2, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Posted by Donna

    Hello people, well these story's all sound like where I am right now. I have my sister with me now who is 50% deaf and has dementia. She had been living in her own apt. and no one even knew what was wrong with her,even her Dr. did not say any thing to her about loosing her mind. As soon as I saw her in a restaurant one day "wow" what a shock. we had not been very close for over 25 years. Now I am trying to keep my wits about my self. It's very hard for me to just change my whole life around for her, I love her but not quite sure if I am doing things right for her, it's only been 2 1/2 months so still getting use to it all. I have her name down for long term but she will say please do not put me in a home, she has no one else to step up to the front line for her. If any one can give me some add vice on some small things to do to help her through this will be greatly excepted. Thank you I think this is the beginning of a long haul for me, hope I am strong enough to get through it all.


  11. August 2, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Posted by Donna

    I read these thoughts and I think there are some facts missing in the article. My husband and I care for my aging mother that has a broken leg that will not heal so she is unable to walk and she has Alzheimer's. We do not let things stand in our way, we overcome obstacles and still travel with my mom. My husband and I live in a 5th wheel, we stay at mom's for short periods of time and the rest of the time she travels with us. All four of mom's doctor's know this and love what we do for mom. But this article is missing the boat completely if you ask me.... Most of my stress has nothing to do with caring for my mom, it has to do with the other BS crap. My mom has siblings that are jealous because she gets to travel so they make rude comments, won't call and talk to mom, they tell all they know that she should be put in a nursing home. Then I have some siblings that are even in denial about the disease. I have two sisters that think Alzheimer's means that mom will forget their names and that is it. So these outside sources are far more stressful than dealing with my mom. So we care for my mom, I even work from home and we travel all over the place with mom. Her neurologist says it is good for keeping her mind engaged and active, but the crazy people around me are the ones that drive me crazy. I get tired of taking crap for caring for my mom. My two sisters are upset because I changed the locks on mom's home. Mom didn't want them in her home when we were out of town and we couldn't trust them, so to protect things I changed the locks. I didn't hide the fact, I even told them up front. Yet they are upset with me, my one sister wouldn't even call or come see her mom the last time she was in town, she was avoiding me. I don't care if they avoid me, but they need to spend time with our mom before she hits the next stage. I have one sister that understands the disease and is better than the other two, but this article does not look at the situation of family dynamics and how this affects the stress level of care giving. Also as someone said the government is another problem. I am not looking to be paid for what I do, but I would appreciate the assistance for tools that I need to help give my mom quality of life. It is not just about life, but quality of life. Caregivers save Medicaid and Medicare literally and there are some caregivers that need to be paid because they are unable to work while care giving. Somewhere the government has gone wrong and needs to look at this situation. But for me this article is saying here is the burnout, but they should be looking at what causes the stress and how to prevent it. With my own family dynamics it doesn't matter what I do or say, there is no win-win situation.


  12. August 2, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Posted by Dick Olsen

    I have A.D. It's a frightening and frustrating experience. Frustrating because I know well, what I am doing to those around me and frightening because, I also know well, where I'm going. It is with huge sense of guilt that I make my loved ones suffer, in caring for me. Please forgive me. I am not doing this on purpose and I know that you did not sign up for this job. You certainly won no good lottery. I'm sorry, I'm truly sorry!


  13. August 2, 2013 at 11:31 am | Posted by Jeanne

    I have a few of these, taking care of husband. And he really is NOT a bad alzy patient. I just have no patience, never have had much. Sometimes I get upset with him and raise my voice.


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