As a health care professional caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s on a daily basis, I have been experiencing some sleep difficulties and changes in my mood and appetite. It seems I just don’t have the energy to care for these individuals and my patience is wearing very thin. Is this depression?

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

The Rev. Samuel Wood, an author and compassion fatigue educator, defines the condition 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 health care 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 health care 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. Additionally, signs could include a disparaging attitude toward the people the health care professionals serve and the neglect of close family members and friends. Plus, the health care professional gets more vocal about complaints, becomes consistently irritable, loses patience more often and enthusiasm for their 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.

Here’s some self-care strategies:

Keeping connected to other health care professionals is important, as is knowing 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 individuals on a daily basis? Think back on the high enthusiasm you exuded and the commitment you made to make a difference in the lives of others.

Rediscovering the reason behind 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.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.