Caregiver Fatigue


Our –ATE word this week is CAPITULATE. Giving in, and the costs of doing so.

senior advocacy, raleigh-durham, n.c.If I have learned one thing lately it is to pay attention to the thing that lingers, that gnawing thing that demands I slow down and look at it. For senior care advocates, ignoring this could lead to caregiver fatigue. Yep, there’s the book or magazine again, the one with THAT PHRASE in it. Why did I leave that window open on the computer since, oh, last Thursday? Because it means something.

Three times lately I’ve read of this phenomenon called Decision Fatigue. It became even more intriguing when I read someone admitted they were a victim of Decision Fatigue.

I had probably kept that stuff because somehow I already knew I was a victim.

What is Decision Fatigue? An excellent article  Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue by John Tierney in the New York Times Magazine offers this great rundown:

“Decision Fatigucan make quarterbacks prone to dubious choices late in the game and CFOs prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening. It routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and non-executive, rich and poor — in fact, it can take a special toll on the poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.

Decision Fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy:  it’s mental fatigue. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways.

One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain.” One capitulates.

Do you suppose that has ever happened to you?

Consider the car buying experience. One study I read reported that the more tough choices buyers encountered early in the car buying process the quicker they became fatigued and settled for the path of least resistance by taking the default option. When dealers manipulated the order of the buyers’ choices, the customers would end up settling for different kinds of options, with the average difference amounting to more than $2,000. Whether the customers paid a little extra for fancy wheel rims or a lot extra for a more powerful engine depended on when the choice was offered and just how much willpower was left in the customer at that point.  Giving in to pressure like this is one of the stress symptoms of mental fatigue.

Here’s a tale about fatigue in the legal system: One might think that the judges are influenced by factors like the type of crime committed or the laws broken. But researchers at the National Academy of Sciences found exactly the opposite. Judges were impacted by all types of things that shouldn’t have an effect in the courtroom, most notably the time of day.  This is also one of the stress symptoms of mental fatigue.

Early in the day a judge was likely to give a favorable ruling about 65 percent of the time. As the morning wore on and the judge became drained from making more and more decisions. The likelihood of a criminal getting a favorable ruling steadily dropped to zero.

After taking a lunch break the judge would return to the courtroom refreshed and the likelihood of a favorable ruling would immediately jump back up to 65 percent. As the hours wore on, the percentage of favorable rulings would fall to zero by the day’s end.

This trend held true for more than 1,100 cases. It didn’t matter what the crime was — murder, rape, theft, embezzlement — a criminal was much more likely to get a favorable response if their parole hearing was scheduled in the morning or immediately after a food break.  As you can see, intellect does not exclude you from being a victim of mental fatigue.

Have you, are you, could you see yourself in a situation where (to) capitulate becomes the choice? Have you ever given in, exhausted or debilitated to the point where the actual decision was resignedly to accept whatever consequences may come?  As senior care advocates, we must be aware and monitor our mental and emotional condition so we don’t fall victim to caregiver fatigue.

Because car buyers are at risk for Decision Fatigue, it could end up costing them thousands of dollars. If we as caregivers are at risk, what might the costs be in terms of dollars, choices, responsibility, outcome or integrity?

Are you thinking what I am thinking (the relationship between caregiving and our -ate word of the week, CAPITULATE)?

Steps to avoid (becoming a victim of) Decision Fatigue, Caregiver Fatigue, or capitulating:

  • Look for the signs. Recognize the scenario. Are your decisions ones that avoid change? Are you getting hung up on one factor, like price? Are you making all snap judgments?  All could be stress symptoms and signs of fatigue.
  • Make big decisions first thing in the morning or soon after lunch. Only make one or two big decision in a day.
  • Divide important decisions into several sessions. For example, you may not want to make all your estate planning decisions in one sitting.
  • Routine is wise. Establish a schedule for as many routine tasks as possible. Save your brainpower for decisions that are truly important.
  • Do the most important thing first. (If this was the most important court case in the world, when would you want the judge to hear it?).
  • Have a snack. (crazy simple, right?). If you have to make good decisions later in the day, then eat something first. Successful executives don’t attempt to restructure a company at 4pm or on an empty stomach.
  • Simplify. Find ways to simplify your life. If something isn’t important to you, eliminate it. Making decisions about unimportant things, even if you have the time to do so, isn’t a benign task. It’s pulling precious energy and willpower from the things that matter. (Love this, it’s on our whiteboard here today) “You can most certainly improve your output by reducing the number of inputs.”

 All of these are great examples of how to overcome fatigue.

You don’t have to capitulate.

Are you thinking what we’re thinking? We can help families NAVIGATE through the challenges that come with aging and caregiver fatigue. Call us to set up a free consultation, (919) 628-4428 or CONNECT WITH US.

Image Source: BigStock

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