Compassion Fatigue: Watching for Symptoms, Finding Solutions

As summer approaches, there is a gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions in some states. Unfortunately, caregivers at home and in long-term care still continue to face repetitive days of providing care and support.  These individuals are at risk to develop compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue involves a caregiver’s taking on the trauma and distress of others. Risk factors include exposure to suffering and empathic response. According to the American Institute of Stress, it is a process that takes time.  With the advent of COVID-19, things are different.

THE EFFECT OF COVID-19

How does COVID-19 play a role? The rapid onset of the COVID-19 quarantine has accelerated the compassion fatigue process. Other factors include changes in residents’ routine, and the addition of infection control measures and personal protective equipment. The multiple effects of additional work loads and caring for residents living a new, restricted lifestyle, can and will take its toll.

SYMPTOMS TO WATCH FOR, WAYS TO COPE

Caring for loved ones and residents can be difficult. With the presence of COVID-19, the caring load is greater. The effects of continued care for extended time are troubling. The American Institute of Stress lists compassion fatigue symptoms such as loss of morale, depression, exhaustion, and anxiety. COVID-related compassion fatigue can develop quickly in long term care workers. They take on additional work hours and multiple roles  to care for residents and family members. It is important to find ways to cope with this challenge.

Meditation and mindfulness can help ease compassion fatigue. Self care is critical.  As the saying goes, “You can’t fill another person’s cup if yours is empty.” Self care can be talking to others who are going through the same challenges. Sharing frustrations can help. It might be watching cat videos or taking a hot bath. Whatever method is used, compassion fatigue needs to be identified and addressed in those most at risk.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is the Director of Strategic Projects at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers; kathy.dreyer@ageucate.com

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