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  • Are you caring for an elderly parent or relative?
  • Are you caring for an adult or a child with a serious physical or emotional disability? 
  • Maybe you had the assistance of a PSW or respite worker but can no longer risk allowing a personal care worker or a nurse into your home because of the pandemic.
  • Maybe you are struggling to balance the multiple demands that you are facing, which have now increased because you are caring for a loved one.
  • Are you feeling trapped, irritable, overwhelmed?
  • Are you feeling profoundly exhausted and emotionally drained?
  • Do you feel like you can never relax?
  • Are you constantly on high alert?

You could be suffering from caregiver burnout.

What is ‘caregiver burnout’?

Caregivers are often so busy caring for others that they neglect their own self-care and push their own health and well-being to the side.

Over time, the physical and emotional demands of caregiving can impact the caregiver negatively, resulting in the development of physiological or psychological symptoms.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following as some of the signs to watch for:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired often
  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad
  • Feeling anxious
  • Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications

The Cleveland Clinic lists certain factors that can lead to caregiver burnout such as:

  • Role confusion: Many people are confused when thrust into the role of caregiver. It can be difficult for a person to separate her role as caregiver from her role as spouse, lover, child, friend or another close relationship.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Many caregivers expect their involvement to have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the patient. This may be unrealistic for patients suffering from a progressive disease, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
  • Lack of control: Many caregivers become frustrated by a lack of money, resources and skills to effectively plan, manage and organize their loved one’s care.
  • Unreasonable demands: Some caregivers place unreasonable burdens upon themselves, in part because they see providing care as their exclusive responsibility. Some family members such as siblings, adult children or the patient himself/herself may place unreasonable demands on the caregiver. They also may disregard their own responsibilities and place burdens on the person identified as the primary caregiver.
  • Other factors: Many caregivers cannot recognize when they are suffering burnout and eventually get to the point where they cannot function effectively. They may even become sick themselves.

When should you apply for disability benefits?

When symptoms start to impact functionality, particularly in the workplace, it may be necessary for a caregiver to submit a claim for disability benefits.

It is important to note that disability benefits differ from the caregiving benefits that are available through employment insurance. The caregiving benefits available through employment insurance allow a caregiver to receive financial assistance while taking time away from work to provide care or support to a critically ill or injured person or someone needing end-of-life care. The medical evidence is focused on the condition of the person being cared for.

Disability benefits that are provided through a group insurance policy or an individual insurance policy are available when a caregiver suffers from disabling conditions that prevent them from being able to work. The medical evidence is focused on the condition of the caregiver.

Why are disability benefits claims denied?

The error that many claimants and their doctors make when submitting a claim for disability benefits is that they focus unduly on the fact that the claimant is caring for an elderly relative or a child or adult with a disability rather than focusing on their own symptoms. To the claimant and the doctor’s surprise, the insurer then denies the claim on the basis that their policy does not cover someone engaging in caregiving responsibilities who is unable to work as a result.

It is essential when submitting a claim for disability benefits on the basis of caregiver burnout that the focus remains on the claimant and the symptoms that he or she is experiencing rather than the fact that they need time off work to care for someone.

The parent who has barely slept because he was monitoring his disabled child’s oxygen desaturations through the night or the daughter who has barely slept because she was afraid her father with dementia would go wandering should talk about the impact of sleep deprivation on their functionality.

Their doctors could, for instance, explain that sleep deprivation is impacting their productivity, energy levels, focus and concentration, making successful job performance untenable.

Why do insurers insist on ongoing treatment?

Perhaps the most challenging thing for someone suffering from caregiver burnout is ensuring that are seeking regular treatment for themselves. The demands of regular life coupled with caregiving responsibilities often make it impossible for caregivers to find time to seek treatment.

A parent may feel uncomfortable leaving a medically fragile child in the care of a babysitter while they seek treatment for themselves. It may not be possible to leave an elderly parent or relative alone without constant supervision.

Many people may not be able to afford an alternative care provider to watch their child or relative while they seek treatment. They often consider seeking treatment for themselves a “luxury” rather than a necessity and often feel guilty about suspending their caregiver role, even briefly, fearing devastating consequences if they are not present.

Many disability insurance policies contain provisions that require an insured to seek appropriate treatment in order to facilitate recovery. This requirement is often tied into the entitlement to receive benefits.

Insurers will use these provisions to deny claims on the basis that the claimant is not pursuing appropriate treatment. In addition, it is not uncommon for insurers to equate the absence of treatment as being indicative of the absence of a disabling condition.

While insurers do require proof of ongoing disability in the form of medical evidence in order to continue to support a disability claim, their requests have to be reasonable in the circumstances.

A particularly unforgettable case involved an insurer denying a claim because the claimant was spending her time at her dying mother’s bedside rather than seeking treatment for herself. While the provisions of that policy did require regular attendance at treatment, once the case entered the arena of litigation, we were able to advocate for the claimant and explain to the insurer why a judge might perceive the claimant’s conduct as reasonable and the insurer’s conduct in denying benefits as callous under the circumstances.

Although every case is different, consulting with an experienced disability lawyer is highly recommended in order to determine whether the insurer’s denial or termination of benefits can be overturned.

If you are struggling with caregiver burnout, and feel that you have not been treated fairly by your long term disability insurer, you should discuss your long-term disability claim with an experienced lawyer. MK Disability Lawyers LLP are experienced lawyers dedicated exclusively to the practice of disability insurance litigation. We would be happy to provide you with a free consultation.  Please contact us online or by calling us at 844-697-4600.

The preceding is not intended to be legal advice.  This blog is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice.  By using this blog, you understand that there is no solicitor-client relationship between you and the blog publisher.  The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed lawyer in your jurisdiction.  If your disability claim has been denied and you require legal advice, contact a lawyer specializing in disability law.