Preventing Eldercare Burnout: Setting Boundaries


It’s hard for caregivers to learn to say no.

We want to provide the bet care possible while balancing multiple roles, the demands of illness, our communities, and the countless responsibilities of life. We are often fatigued, overworked, and unrecognized. But it is important that early on we become experts in setting boundaries as caregivers. We will always have limitations and be faced with the trap of false guilt.

So what can we do? The following tips are recommended by caregiving experts.

Set boundaries early.

  • Make a realistic list. What do you think you can do, and what do you think can’t do–both now and in the longterm. Believe it or not, you can’t do everything, and you’re not good at everything. For instance, if you’re not good at your own finances, it wouldn’t be wise to try to manage your aging parent’s money. Delegate, and talk to a lawyer who handles eldercare issues. Assist Guide Information Services (AGIS) provides comprehensive guides for caregivers.
  • Assess what will you need.This will change as time goes on. You may not need in-home care services right now, but you likely will at some point in the future. Know what types of tasks will be beyond your ability physically, financially, and in other ways. Make sure your assessment is realistic and provides a plan for the future. AARP offers a free Prepare to Care: Caregiving Planning Guide.
  • Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Assess your health, your finances, your living situation, the distance from your loved one’s home, their health needs and longterm prognosis. What challenges lie ahead? For instance, you may desire to have your loved one in your home, your home design may make it difficult for them to live with you


Commit to taking care of yourself.

  • Assess your current health needs. Do you have a chronic illness that requires attention? Are you working a full-time job? What other roles and responsibilities do you need to protect?
  • Be aware of depression and signs of burnout. According to the Cleveland Clinic, caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Caregivers who are burned out may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Be aware of symptoms: withdrawing from friends, loss of interest in activities, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, weight loss or loss of appetite. Be aware that caregivers often try to meet unrealistic expectations and struggle to distinguish between their role as caregiver and spouse/child/parent, etc.
  • Be prepared to scale back if your needs begin to suffer.


Gather a support team.

  • If possible, find an advocate. This person assists in making connections for things you need and for gathering and distributing information on your behalf when necessary. It’s sometimes easier to have others ask on our behalf than to ask ourselves. And in times of crisis, it can be helpful to have someone serve as our contact person.
  • Ask for help. Consider family, neighbors, community services, church support, and other available assistance. Call the Area Agency on Aging in the county where you parent resides and ask for an in-home assessment and information on available resources.
  • Find a support group—online or face to face. If your loved one has been diagnosed with a chronic illness, disease-specific support groups can be helpful. Two respected general groups are the Caregivers Action Network (CAN) and the Caregiver Alliance.

For inspirational and practical reading, check out Precious Lord, Take My Hand: Meditations for Caregivers and Ambushed by Grace: Help and Hope on the Caregiving Journey.


The Other Side of Caregiving Advocacy

Imagine life humming along in its usual routine—work commitments, church meetings, a packed schedule of evening and weekend meetings, friends, and family. Then one night you receive the call that changes your life. A loved one—spouse, child, parent, grandchild, or friend—has been thrown into a health crisis. A battle lies ahead.

Family and friends converge at a medical facility. Some may even drive hundreds of miles or fly in from across the country. People rearrange life’s priorities as they’re thrown into new settings that often require re-negotiation of boundaries and the re-routing of life in an intricate dance of decision-making.

When medical crisis hits, caregivers face challenges that confront them from every direction: learning to grasp complex medical knowledge, coping with devastating grief, absorbing mind-boggling financial and insurance information, and shuffling family roles and taking on caregiving responsibilities that are frequently unfamiliar to them in what can be a fruit-basket-upset environment.

 If your loved ones are facing a caregiving crisis and your desire is to be supportive, I’d offer a few suggestions:

  • Be willing to stand at the end of the line. Don’t show up with a superhero mentality or a secret agenda. Come with a servant’s heart. If you’re a relative, drop the rivalries and game playing that often come with sibling and family relationships. Look hard and deeply at your motives when people communicate in a clumsy manner or emotions run at the surface. Remember, caregiving isn’t about you.
  • Respect and support the wishes of those making tough decisions. Caregiving in crisis means a thousand tough decisions will have to be made, and many of them will come down to choices between hard and harder. Caregivers receive expert counsel from medical professionals, social workers, pastors, chaplains, and trusted family and friends. Don’t offer opinions unless you’re asked, and support decisions when they’re made—even if it’s as simple as whether or not the kids are supposed to be eating organic food. Don’t fold your arms or roll your eyes, condescend, or talk to other people about why you wouldn’t do what a certain family member may have chosen to do.
  • Ask what support looks like to the family. Some people like to be surrounded by loved ones (like me). Other people prefer their privacy. The key is to love people in a manner that feels like love to them. So ask them what will be most meaningful to them, and then follow through with a plan. Meals? Money? Visits? Errands? Practical help organizing the house for the return visit home? Your priorities really don’t count in this equation. Ask questions that help family members articulate the specific kinds of help they need, then find creative ways to link arms with other people to provide that assistance (check out or
  • Pray about how God wants to grow you through this experience. Caregiving forces us to confront fears, step into new roles, give up control, live with inconvenience, shoulder suffering, and shed our self-centered agendas. It pushes us into new places of frustration and fear that can lead us to greater faith.

 Whether you’re in the midst of the maelstrom or stepping into the role of advocate or supporter for someone you love, ask God how He wants to grow you into the image of Jesus Christ through this experience. Ask Him to show you what He may be asking you to lay down or to pick up as you serve others with the ultimate desire of becoming more like Jesus in all you do.