As caregivers, fighting fatigue in the elderly or in the person you are caring for can be difficult.
Ask others to help with caregiving tasks that the person in your care is no longer able to manage.
The symptoms of fatigue usually include a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion that doesn’t go away with rest, which is one of the most common and frustrating symptoms in serious illnesses. However, the exact causes of fatigue and how best to manage it aren’t always clear.
Find out what home health care professionals know about the causes and symptoms of fatigue and what you can do to help as a caregiver.
What causes fatigue?
The reasons for fatigue can vary quite a bit.
The illness. For instance, cancer cells grow more quickly than normal cells, so they use up more of your body’s energy resources. Your body gets that energy by breaking down muscle cells, so you feel weaker and more tired.
Medical treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation damage both healthy cells as well as cancer cells, and your body needs to work harder to repair the damage.
Loss of blood or oxygen. Blood loss from surgery, disease, and reduced red blood cells from chemotherapy can cause fatigue. Our bodies need blood cells to carry oxygen and turn nutrients from food into energy. Lung disease (e.g. COPD) or heart disease can also interfere with oxygen.
Medications. Some medications, such as pain or nausea relievers, can cause fatigue.
Infection. The body uses extra energy to get rid of an infection, which can sometimes lead to chronic fatigue syndrome, a medical condition accompanied by body aches, fever, depression and prolonged tiredness.
Unrelieved pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. All of these can keep a person awake at night and also use up the body’s energy stores.
Poor nutrition. It is important for the person in your care to try to eat enough protein, carbohydrates, and fats to provide the “fuel” for their body to function properly. Juicing and making smoothies with fresh fruits and vegetables can be very beneficial.
Dehydration. If the person is not drinking or is losing fluid through vomiting or diarrhea, their body won’t have the balance of water and nutrients it needs.
Depression or anxiety. Emotions related to coping with a diagnosis or illness, including worry over how their family will manage, may lead to physical and mental fatigue.
Lack of sleep. The person may be trying to do too much and their body is telling them to slow down. You can ensure the person is getting enough rest to deal with the increased physical and emotional stresses of their illness.
What can I do as a caregiver to help get rid of fatigue?
Once a doctor has addressed any physical or medication-related reasons for the person’s fatigue, there are some coping strategies and things that you can try as a caregiver.
Plan periods of rest and periods of activity to maximize the energy the person has available for things that are really important right now. Ask others to help with caregiving tasks that the person in your care is no longer able to manage.
Help the person in your care eat a balanced diet with sufficient calories to provide the body with the energy it needs. If you find they get full quickly, prepare smaller meals more often. Your care team can arrange for a dietitian to make sure they are getting enough calories.
Make sure they are drinking enough fluid as well, to stay properly hydrated. Limit caffeine and alcohol intake, as these can affect their ability to sleep.
If the doctor agrees, get the person in your care moving with 30 minutes of moderate daily exercise such as walking, cycling, and swimming. Exercise will help maintain muscle strength and mass. Exercise also improves breathing and heart function in order to maintain good oxygen levels to cells. Exercise also releases chemicals in our brain called endorphins that help in fighting fatigue, making us feel better and more alert.
Try things to help the person relax. For instance, getting a massage, listening to music, spending time outside in a quiet, natural place (if weather permits), doing a creative activity like drawing or writing, or imagining you are in a place that you enjoy visiting.
If the person needs to rest during the day, try to limit the length of time they sleep to help them have a longer, more restful sleep at night. The bedroom should be a quiet environment and kept at a comfortable temperature for sleeping.
Ensure the person is taking their medications as prescribed so that symptoms are properly controlled.
If you have concerns about unexplained fatigue or you are having difficulty overcoming fatigue, talk with the health care professionals and family members about things that are worrying you. If you let others know how you are feeling, they can help you find strategies to deal with your concerns and ways to cope.
Remember, as a family caregiver you are not alone. Caregiver support is available to help you with fatigue management and with maintaining the quality of life for the person in your care.
You might also enjoy this related Elizz article on Caregiver Burnout.
Powered by Saint Elizabeth Health Care, Elizz is a not-for-profit organization and the place to go for all things caregiving. Elizz offers a full range of services for caregivers as well as for those in your care.
If you have more questions about fatique management or how to overcome chronic fatigue syndrome, please call Elizz at 1-855-Ask-Eliz (275-3549) or contact a Caregiver Coach.