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This October, the Regional Community Brain Injury Services will be hosting a workshop for family and friends with guest speaker Janet Cromer “Compassion Fatigue: When Caring Hurts the Caregiver”.  I thought this might be a good time to explore this concept of compassion fatigue and what it really means.

 If you’re a family member caring for a loved one with a brain injury, you likely feel you fill a role that no one else can.  You provide assistance, support and encouragement not because you are being paid to, but out of love and concern for the survivor.  I’ve had the privilege of knowing many committed family members over the years that have stood by their loved one through the initial trauma, the waiting and seeing of early recovery and the forging ahead into the future together.  This type of commitment is commendable, but many people remark that they don’t feel as if it is a choice, it is simply what is required of the situation.  And so, they carry on.

 But through their strength caregivers often sacrifice their own wellbeing, both physical and emotional.  Caregivers suffer difficulties in their relationships with family or friends as a result, and often experience anxiety and other psychological symptoms1.  They may also struggle to attend to their own wellbeing, such as preparing healthy meals or making time to exercise1.  While these difficulties are common and an understandable consequence of the caregiving experience, they do not serve the survivor well at all.  The family member provides a unique form of caring that can’t be replaced with any paid services, which is all the more reason that they need to care for themselves as well as they care for others.

 Compassion fatigue is also known as secondary post-traumatic stress disorder.  It occurs when the caregiver is exposed to the stress and emotional upheaval of seeing their loved one experience difficulties.  Over time they may find it increasingly difficult to cope, see hope, and may feel that their efforts are not making a difference.  This is compassion fatigue taking hold, so what can be done?

 There are a number of things caregivers can do to help.  First, isolation and a lack of willingness to accept support from others will only bring on compassion fatigue on more quickly.  Being physically near the person does not automatically reflect on how much the caregivers love and care, especially if they are verging on collapse, short tempered, worn out, and weary.  Taking time away to visit a support group or just engage in activities that they find enjoyment in can allow the caregiver to renew so they can bring their best selves back to their caregiving duties. 

 This fall we’ll be welcoming Janet to teach useful techniques and deal with the ongoing demands of caregiving.  As Janet has experience both professionally and personally in this regard, she will certainly come with techniques that are practical and time-tested.  Registration costs and lunch are provided by RCBIS, you only need to make the time to attend.  I hope you will be able to join us.

 1. Physical and Mental Health Effects of Family Caregiving