Caring for individuals with Alzheimer's is highly stressful at times, and you may be experiencing some symptoms of depression. However, these signs also may reflect a condition known as "compassion fatigue."

The Rev. Samuel Wood defines compassion fatigue as the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people or animals.

Clearly, working day to day with this population meets with many challenges. Many healthcare professionals feel they can manage these challenges while telling themselves that they can "fix" the problem; their high enthusiasm yields overzealous ideals of commitment and always-going-the-extra-mile behaviors. However, slowly symptoms of compassion fatigue might surface, of which the healthcare professional is unaware.

Besides the sleep difficulties, mood swings and changes in appetite you are experiencing, other symptoms of compassion fatigue may include anger and irritability, withdrawal, loss of enjoyment in his/her vocation, depression, low self-esteem and difficulty concentrating. Addition signs could include a disparaging attitude toward the people the healthcare professional serves and neglect of close family members and friends. Plus, the health care professional can become more vocal about complaints, is consistently irritable, loses patience more often and his or her enthusiasm for the work begins to diminish.

Health care professionals who experience these symptoms should make it a point to receive support, either from other co-workers or from a licensed counselor or social worker. At the height of compassion fatigue, a health care professional may suffer from physical and/or emotional issues and are even at risk of leaving his or her profession.

Some self-care strategies include keeping connected to other health care professionals and realizing that compassion fatigue is not a character flaw.

Ask yourself why you got involved in this vocation in the first place? What motivated you to care for these Alzheimer's patients? Think back to when you started and the enthusiasm you had and the commitment you made to make a difference for others.

Rediscovering the reason why you chose to work in this particular field can offer you a new perspective in your vocation, and it can lead to greater enthusiasm and energy in your work. The joy of caring can return if you learn how to keep a balance in your life and not succumb to high personal expectations or the need to always fix everything.

Keep in mind that the need will always surpass the resources, and that if you don't take care of yourself, then eventually you will be so stretched that there will not be enough of you left to care for anyone else.


Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at advice@alzbr.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.