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Compassion Fatigue is a Reality of Dementia Caregiving

Author: Gail Elliot
03 April 2018

If you are connected to the world of dementia care, the demands are many. In your quest to help others, are you taking time to care for yourself?

Dementia care is provided by people who are paid staff (including all types of health care providers) as well as family, friends, volunteers and neighbours (to name a few). In dementia care, we provide many different types of support and care.

"Care" can include anything from helping with household tasks to addressing basic social needs (e.g. a phone call or chat) to helping with tasks of daily life (such as getting dressed or finding the toilet). Quality care requires a commitment of both time and energy — and CARE.

It is interesting to note that in some countries, such as the U.K. and Australia, those who provide paid or unpaid support and care would be referred to as a "carer" rather than caregiver. The term "carer" is far more reflective of the caregiving role — placing a focus on "caring" rather than tasks. The word "carer" also brings out the emotional side of care, which can be a contributing factor/underlying root cause of compassion fatigue.

Think about it: if you "care," you may also find you are chronically tired, or quite frankly exhausted. The "care" you provide undoubtedly includes a mix of physical, mental and emotional expenditures of energy. You may be expending far more energy on caring than you realize. In your quest to help others, are you taking time to care for yourself? Do you understand why you are exhausted? Do you take time to replenish what has been depleted?

If you are connected to the world of dementia care, the demands are many. There is often too much to do, not enough time. Also, in many cases, you may be supporting someone with dementia who may not understand that he/she needs your support. Some people may actually resent you for trying to assist them, as they do not understand they need help. This is a difficult situation — because you are not only working hard to help — you are not appreciated for doing your best to provide the finest help and care possible. An expression of appreciation needs to come from others, as many people with dementia do not have the insight to know you are doing a great job.

To top things off, staff may have a heavy workload after they leave their work day and family may be sandwiched between generations and have a multiplicity of demands and responsibilities. If either or both situations apply to you, you may not be getting the help and support you need to balance the "giving" scenario. When you care, you can easily deplete your energy reserves. It is important to recognize that the losses and challenges experienced in dementia care can lead to a build-up of unexpressed emotions. Compassion fatigue is real! It is therefore vitally important to remember to care for those who care. But how? Read more at

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