I can feel burnout lurking.

I’m coping, but I feel like a need a new perspective as I can feel burnout lurking. I’m an only child. My parents are 90 (Mom) and 85 (Dad). 19 years ago we moved in together. I was the single mother of teenage boys and financially I couldn’t cope. My children are now launched and have become fine adults. I have a wonderful new husband. I’m now a grandmother. The little ones are 11/2 and 3 1/2. I try to take them one day a week.

As my children were leaving my parents started needing more care. Around 8 years ago my father started drinking heavily. Whiskey to the point where he was falling down drunk. About 4 years ago my mother decided to do the same. Vast amounts of wine. By the box-full.  They both smoke.

I take care of EVERYTHING! Finances. Appointments. Cooking. Provisioning. They get at home care. Started 8 years ago with a couple of hours a week. Now 3 hours 3 times a week. Last January my adult step-son moved in with us. He is a recovering drug-addict.  2 Years ago Mom stopped driving and I was able to get the alcohol consumption under control. My parents now share one bottle of wine a day. They (still) dislike this restriction but it is better for me. My Dad was falling and injuring himself badly (breaking a variety of bones) and my Mom was unrecognizable, so drunk.

My Dad has suffered his whole life from PTSD. He was in a Japanese concentration camp from age 10 to 14. He fell into a deep depression a few years after retirement. He also has suffered from anxiety. A few years ago he checked-out. Stopped caring about anything. He does nothing but sleep, eat and watch some TV. He is completely deconditioned. He has dementia or wet-brain.

Mom has started to be forgetful. She was operated for colon cancer last year and had radiation treatment for spots on her lungs this summer. She also does very little.

There is no seniors’ residence that will take smokers/drinkers.

My husband and I travel a lot. We are airline employees and (now that all but one of the kids are launched) are finally fulfilling some dreams. Making sure all of my parents needs are met before we leave on a trip almost does me in. It pushes me to the brink. The first few days after we leave are filled with anxiety.

Oh. And I work. 22 hours a week.

Can you offer me any advice? I’m envious of my peers that have sibling. They can share responsibilities. As soon as anything happens that requires me to take on extra responsibility I panic. I’m afraid I won’t be able to cope. A scrape on my Mom’s leg became horribly infected and needed urgent attention on Monday. I had a knot in my chest the whole time. Some nights I can’t fall asleep or stay asleep.

I’ve burned out previously, after I left my first husband. I really don’t want it to happen again.



Hello Marilyn:

First I would like to congratulate you for taking care of your parents in your own home for so many years.  You are clearly a lovely, caring daughter.  Being the only adult child can many times be isolating, lonely and overwhelming to make all the decision and do all the work. Of course, having siblings does not guarantee that they will be helpful.  Many times, I hear horror stories of siblings fighting over care, money, etc.  Be thankful that you do not have those problems.

It sounds to me that you have over the years, worked through day-to-today living issues, and mostly need some suggestions on how to be able to escape and travel without losing your mind while you are gone and dealing with sudden changes in their health so you don’t get “burnt out”.  My goal with my ideas is to help you find some peace and more control over your life.

While you travel:

  1. Although it may be expensive, see if you can hire someone to stay with them 24/7 while you are on vacation. This will give you peace of mind, knowing that you will be able to check on them while you are gone.  If you cannot do that or it is not practical, at least have someone come in every day for a couple of visits.
  2. Install a couple of webcams in your house and check on them while you are gone. A quick look “inside” will give you some instant “peace of mind”.  If something is wrong, you will know that instantly too and be able to make some fast phone calls.
  3. Purchase a monitoring device that they can wear. If they fall or get into trouble, help will not be far away.
  4. Try and develop an emergency readiness plan. Write down all the ways that you could create a plan to deal with a variety of situations.  Writing ideas down, is better than staying awake at night worrying.  Writing helps to formulate ideas and action plans.

If the emergencies are minor, you will just have to cope and re-arrange your life temporarily.  Of course, if something major happens, like a broken hip, know that everything will change instantly and perhaps change forever.  Those situations although major, do offer some more help from the health care system than you are currently getting.  I know people who have broken hips and are forced to move to long-term care.  Rarely does anyone volunteer to move there, but sometimes that is the only and best choice.  At that point, smoking and drinking are not even issues.

To help you from burning out:

  1. Know your limitations. You only have 2 hands and I bet you wish you had 8.  You are not an octopus.  Give yourself praise for what you do well and don’t be hard on yourself when things get turned upside down.
  2. Life is all about setting expectations. Expect that there will be days that drive you out of your mind and just put it down as “another crazy day”.
  3. The success of your caregiving will depend on your ability to maintain your health: physical, mental and social!

Caregiving risks:

-Stress and burnout

-Physical injury

-Financial burdens

-Neglecting your own health

-Strains on other family relationships


Signs of Caregiver Burnout:

-Limited time or energy for your family and friends

-Always stressed

-Trouble sleeping

-Defensive and quick to snap at people

-Do you have a sense of?



-Feeling sad

-Alone or overwhelmed?

-How’s your own health since becoming a caregiver?


Care for the caregiver:

-Make time for yourself

-Extra-long showers, shopping, lunch or even a phone call with a friend

-Eat healthy foods

-Get your required sleep

-Build physical activity into your daily routine – even a simple walk will help


Embrace Change:

-Change is a part of caregiving,  being open to it

-Things never stay the same

-What worked in the past, may no longer work

– Learn to make change work for everyone:

-For yourself

-For the one you are caring for

-While keeping their dignity


It take Villages to offer greater sustainability: 

-You cannot do all things yourself.  Create a village of support

-Family members, friends or hired organizations

-You need the help of others, you cannot do everything yourself or you will get burnout!

-Accept the help of others, it is very freeing

-Learn to accept & be thankful for their help


Dealing with guilt:

Guilt can be a powerful, often ugly beast. Guilt can be endless. The energy we have to deal with it is not endless. Dealing with guilt:

-Everyone’s situations and resources are different

-Do your best, both for the people you care for & for yourself

-Make tough decisions that fit your world and your heart

-Results may not be perfect, but life is not perfect either

-Others may suffer or disagree with your decisions, but stay focused on doing the “right thing.”


In time:

You will look back and be glad you made the tough decisions to do the best for your parents and for yourself.  Learn to separate grief from guilt, they are very different.

This is a powerful gift that only you can give to yourself


Good luck Marilyn.  I hope your road is easier and your journeys bring joy to your life

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