Compassion Fatigue Vs. Burnout: Advice for Caregivers

January 3, 2023

stress management
Kampus Production, Pexels

Have you ever felt overwhelmed or depressed because of everything you needed to do for your elderly parents — on top of your regular responsibilities? Then you might have experienced symptoms of caregiver burnout or even compassion fatigue.

Family caregivers are at risk of developing these issues just as much as their professional counterparts, so it’s important to not neglect your own needs while taking care of your loved ones.

We will look at the main differences between compassion fatigue vs. burnout, as well as dedicate a section to preventing these conditions.

If you agree that prevention is better than treatment, make sure you go through this article!

Why You Need Self-Care. Caregiver Burnout Statistics

mental health
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In 2015, over 34 million people in the United States provided unpaid care to an older adult (age 50 or more).

About half of informal caregivers admit that balancing caregiving with other commitments is extremely difficult. Moreover, 20 to 40 percent of them suffer from depression due to the stressful nature of this job.

Thankfully, you can avoid these issues with proper self-care and strategic planning — which we will discuss later in depth.

But there’s more to self-care than avoiding negative emotions as a caregiver.

Something that may surprise you (in an unpleasant way) is that inadequate training for this responsibility can lead to elder abuse — whether intentional or not.

Prevent Elder Abuse

According to a national study from 2011, one in ten seniors experienced some form of abuse that year (such as verbal, physical, or emotional abuse). Most of the time, the perpetrators were the caregivers themselves.

The study also revealed that the main factors contributing to abusive behaviour were:

  • Taking care of someone over the age of 75;
  • Living with a senior;
  • Lack of experience or willingness to provide proper care (only about half of the family caregivers receive training to perform specific medical tasks);
  • Relationship conflicts;
  • Having other caring demands from a spouse or children;
  • High stress (especially if the care recipient suffers from a type of cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s disease);
  • Lack of social support;
  • Poor physical and mental health (concerning the caregiver);
  • Alcohol or drug abuse;
  • Having suffered from abuse as a child;
  • High expectations of the elderly parent.

The takeaway is that managing stress and finding support are vital to avoid inflicting any form of violence toward an elderly loved one.

Cultivate Your Compassion

Caregiving doesn’t have to be too stressful or overwhelming. There are some positive aspects to it after all, such as experiencing compassion satisfaction (CS): the positive feelings that arise from helping other people.

Caregivers generally report feelings of fulfillment, “being happy,” and “being connected to others.” As such, CS empowers caregivers to carry on with their role despite challenges, and it also aids in compassion fatigue prevention.

Compassion Fatigue Vs. Burnout. Key Differences

experiencing compassion fatigue
Ivan Samkov, Pexels

Let’s look more closely at these two similar conditions: compassion fatigue vs. burnout.

Many people are familiar with burnout because they have experienced it at some point in their lives, whether it was due to a demanding job or feeling overwhelmed with family duties.

Compassion fatigue (CF), on the other hand, is a more severe condition. It is a secondary traumatic stress disorder resulting from exposure to another person’s traumatic experiences.

Also called vicarious trauma, CF is defined as “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction — biologically, psychologically, and socially — as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress and all it invokes.” It was originally associated with professional caregivers, but studies have shown that CF can affect informal ones as well (perhaps even more, due to the lack of formal training).

It’s easy to see that when witnessing a loved one’s suffering or discomfort and helping them through it, we may experience physical and emotional exhaustion. That puts us at risk of developing CF.

While some symptoms of caregiver burnout overlap with those of CF, there are some important differences to keep in mind:

Compassion fatigue vs. burnout
Compassion fatigue vs. burnout

Burnout and Compassion Fatigue Prevention: Put Your Oxygen Mask on First

emotional support
Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels

As any flight attendant will say when you board a plane, in case of an emergency, you must put on your oxygen mask before assisting the person next to you. While this may seem counterintuitive, the truth is you need to take care of yourself first before tending to those around you.

Fortunately, there are many tools available to help caregivers navigate this role in a sustainable way. We will cover the essentials, such as simple self-care tips and how to help your elderly parent become more independent via an elderly monitoring system.

In her bestselling book, “How to Care for Aging Parents,” Virginia Morris — an award-winning journalist, as well as a caregiver for her parents —  describes a few key steps to prioritizing self-care:

  1. Acknowledge the Job

It is important to realize how much responsibility caregiving entails and have fair expectations from yourself. Underestimating the workload will set you up for failure and frustration.

  1. Ask for Help

It is natural to feel that you should be in charge of your loved one's well-being because you are the most familiar with their needs. However, the responsibility grows heavier over time, and you may not realize you've reached your limit until it's too late.

So, the sooner you get help, the better. Read our article on sharing caregiving duties within your family to learn more. If you have no family members to support you, look into a respite care plan.

  1. Make Time for Yourself

Understand the differences between actual needs and perceived needs. For example, your mother might appreciate your daily visits, but does she need so much assistance? Are you paying enough attention to other aspects of your life, such as fulfilling all your work commitments?

Learn to say ‘no’ to people or situations that demand more than you can invest. Make time for personal projects too!

  1. Identify Your Motivation

What motivates you to do this job? Is it a cultural or religious duty? A disproportionate burden that your siblings put on you? Or is it a conscious choice you made out of love and are happy to follow through with it?

Consider your reason carefully and try not to do something merely because others expect it from you.

  1. Educate Yourself

When you take your parent to the doctor’s office, don’t be ashamed to ask questions. It’s part of your job as an advocate for your elderly loved one.

Learn as much as you can about your caregiving duties, as well as the unique needs of seniors so that nothing will take you by surprise!

  1. If You Are Feeling Angry, Walk Away!

Caregiving is more than doing specific tasks to assist others; it can also be an emotional rollercoaster. After all, relationships are hard work.

Taking care of someone might cause some strange reactions and thoughts: hopelessness, anger, guilt, and even illogical or cruel thoughts.

We highly recommend seeking counseling and looking into DBT therapy to learn how to manage your emotions. DBT also provides practical tools and meditation techniques to cope with stress.

Until you master emotional regulation, remember this tactic in case of an emergency: if you feel angry, take a step back. Disengage with the person or situation. Don’t react. Otherwise, you may say or do something that doesn’t help anyone.

  1. Join a Caregiver Support Group

We encourage you to do this at the very beginning of your caregiving journey. A support group offers you a safe space where you can vent your frustrations and find solutions to problems that you might think no one else has.

To find a caregiver support group in your area or even online, browse the Eldercare Locator or contact The Family Caregiver Alliance.

We would also add an eighth step to this checklist:

  1. Consider Using a Discreet Elderly Monitoring System

If your parent has chosen to age at home (as most seniors do), you would need to find a routine to support their independent lifestyle as much as possible. This means making sure they take great care of their health and live in a safe environment.

United Healthcare and the National Alliance for Caregiving conducted a survey of 1,000 family caregivers in 2010 to examine how different types of technological devices may aid and simplify their work.

Here are some of the most notable results they obtained:

  • Caregivers were the most open to technology that could assist them in monitoring, tracking, and coordinating their loved one's medical care;
  • Personal health record tracking devices or software were in the top three most helpful technologies for most  (77%) surveyed caregivers;
  • 70% of caregivers found these systems extremely helpful as well: caregiving coordination (i.e. a shared electronic log for various caregiving needs) and medication support (devices that remind seniors to take their treatment);
  • 7 in 10 caregivers (69%) admitted they would be open to using a smartphone application to help them with caregiving;
  • Most caregivers, especially long-distance, agree that eldercare technology can help them save time, become more efficient, reduce stress, and even alleviate depression — which can be a sign of burnout or CF.

CareAlert’s advanced elderly monitoring device was specifically designed for long-distance caregiving. It allows you to stay up-to-date with your loved one’s daily habits, environment, while also giving them a helping hand.

The system reminds the senior about their medication every day, as well as gathers data about their surroundings (air quality, temperature, light, and motion). Afterwards, it sends updates to your smartphone, allowing you and, optionally, their secondary caregivers, to know how they are doing when you are not around.

Let CareAlert Be a Part of Your Sustainable Caregiving Strategy

overcoming compassion fatigue
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As caregivers, we spend a lot of time taking care of other people’s needs and tend to forget that we deserve to give back to ourselves. This can lead to severe issues like depression, frustration, and not being able to carry on with this role.

Having talked about the symptoms and consequences of two of the most severe issues related to caregiving — compassion fatigue vs. burnout — we hope you can use this knowledge to empower yourself and those around you. Don’t be a part of the caregiver burnout statistics!

Cultivating compassion satisfaction (acknowledging the positive aspects of caregiving) and taking care of yourself can lead to a fulfilling caregiver role and a well-balanced lifestyle.

Last but not least, technology like CareAlert can help to alleviate the stress and pressure you may feel as a caregiver and provide you with greater peace of mind.

If you want to learn how our AI-based elderly monitoring system can help you and your loved ones, contact us at

5 min read

Compassion Fatigue Vs. Burnout: Advice for Caregivers

Compassion fatigue vs. burnout in caregivers. Learn about their differences and how to overcome or prevent these issues.
Written by
Alec Whitten
Published on
17 January 2022


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