Elder Care, Events

Coping with Caregiver Stress

Caring for an aging parent can take an emotional toll on the most loving of adult children. Today’s “sandwich generation,” – those who are caring for an aging parent and their own children at the same time – is feeling the stress of trying to provide time and resources to care for their loved ones. According to Stats Canada, almost 10% of Canadians help seniors in their lives.

The Family Care Office will be hosting a workshop on Healthy Caregiving on Tuesday, April 3rd.  Register!

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Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver stress or “burnout”, feeling that you have nothing more to give, is a common feeling that can result when trying to juggle caring for all of your loved ones. It is important to remember that burnout is not a reflection of your affection or loyalty to your parent. Additionally, when not addressed properly, the stress of burnout can negatively impact not only on you, but also your ability to care for your loved ones. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to minimize stress and burnout.

Recognizing Stress
The first step in making positive life changes in caring for an aging parent is recognizing and coping with stress. Caregiving takes an average of 35 hours per month. This can be difficult to manage when you may feel like you do not have any spare time as it is! Everyone experiences stress. However, stress can become a problem when you are feeling depressed, always tired, ill, or have poor concentration. Here are a few examples of how you can cope with stress:

Tips for coping with stress and burnout

1. Take breaks. Remember that you do not have to be involved in all of your parent’s daily activities. You can take a break for yourself and do some of the things you enjoy, like going to a movie, taking a walk, or socializing with friends.

2. Get support. Distribute some of the tasks that are making you stressed. For example, talk to other members of your family, or your parent’s neighbours or friends, about sharing some of the duties involved in caregiving. This can be as simple as having a neighbour check in on your parent once a day.

3. Keep your sense of humour. Although none of us like to think about the aging of someone we love as a humorous matter, it does help to have a sense of humour and to keep things in perspective.

4. Find a sounding board. It is important to have someone around to talk to about your feelings of guilt and stress. Just as you should try not to do everything for your parent yourself, you should try not to keep all of your feelings inside. Talk to friends, or attend a caregiver support group, such as the one provided by Family Services Toronto. Sharing your experiences with others who are going through the same thing, and learning about their coping strategies, can be a great resource when you are facing burnout. If you are a student you can call Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 416 978-8070. Staff and faculty can call the Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAP) at 1-800-668-9920.

5. Manage your time. Good time management will help you relieve stress. Include your parent’s appointments in your calendar. Prioritize items on your to-do list. Set automatic withdrawals, or use online banking to pay your parent’s bills at the same time you pay your own. Delegate tasks to other family members when possible.

6. Make a plan. You can greatly reduce your stress by making a plan. Discuss with your parent their finances; medical care; and housing options. Ensure that they have an up-to-date will, and a power of attorney.

7. Get Support at work. The double demands of working and caring for a parent are overwhelming. Consider your options carefully and call the Family Care Office to discuss your options for flexible hours, compassionate care leave or an unpaid leave of absence.


Dunn, Barbara and Linda Scott. Our Turn to Parent: Shared Experiences and Practical Advice on Caring for Aging Parents in Canada. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2009.

Lustbader, Wendy and Nancy R. Hooyman. Taking Care of Aging Family Members: A Practical Guide. Toronto: The Free Press, 1994.

Mace, Nancy L., and Peter V. Rabins. The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons with Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1999.

Tapp-McDougal, Caroline. The Complete Canadian Eldercare Guide: Expert Solutions to Help You Make the Best Decisions for Your Loved Ones. Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons, 2004.

Alzheimer Society of Toronto

“More Canadians helping the seniors in their lives” by Tralee Pearce in The Globe and Mail, March 5, 2009.

Written by Katie Malkovsky and Stella Polikarova, U of T graduate students.

Edited By Louis Train, Family Care Office Blogger

Kohen McBride

1 Comment

Bianca S.

Thanks for sharing this! As my parents age I often find myself thinking about how I will deal with the stress of caring for them and finding them the proper care. This blog post really gives some valuable advice and made me feel a little less overwhelmed. I thought I would recommend a helpful book I recently read entitled “Voice of Experience: Stories About Health Care and the Elderly” by a husband and wife who are well regarded in their respective medical fields. http://www.voiceofexperiencebrody.com/
This book shares experiences and case studies of families and people going through situations that unfortunately arise as we and our loved ones age. I found it very comforting to see the stories of others faced with similar fears and decisions as the ones I have. More valuable was the advice offered. After reading this book I feel more prepared and confident in my ability to care for my parents when that time comes and I think anyone with similar circumstances should give this book a read.


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