According to Bob Jackson, the Director of Texas AARP, unpaid family caregivers are providing Texas seniors with approximately 3.2 billion hours of care. And that’s just in one year.

Mr. Jackson values those services at approximately $35 billion.

To put that number into perspective, the Kaiser Foundation reports that Texas spends $36.3 billion on all of its Medicaid programs. From that pot, Texas Medicaid covers five in eight nursing home residents. There is no way for the state’s budget to absorb the additional seniors being cared for at home by unpaid family members.

A “typical” caregivers spends more than 20 hours a week caring for his or her loved one. Most often, a woman is providing care. And is providing that care during her “free time” away from a full or part-time job. She is likely part of the 87% of caregivers who are not getting enough sleep.

Faced with so many demands, caregivers often neglect themselves, leading to burnout or compassion fatigue. Professor defines compassion fatigue as “an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.” This level of stress and exhaustion simply must be taken seriously.

Caregivers often feel like they cannot take a break from their loved one, but it is essential for their own health that they do. Respite care, which offers caregivers a break while also ensuring proper care of the patient, allows a caregiver time to relax and re-charge. Support groups are also great resources for caregivers, as these groups allow them to know that they are not alone in the issues they are facing. Technology – which often allows the outsourcing of time-consuming chores – can be a blessing for caregivers, simply to add time back into their days.

Each family situation is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution as to how a caregiver can prevent compassion fatigue. The most important thing is that the caregiver prioritizes his or her own health before it is too late.

The Cleveland Clinic offers some tips to help prevent caregiver burnout:

The Federal Government also helps point caregivers toward the support they need:

Mr. Jackson’s article is available here:

View the Kaiser Foundation report here: