September 09, 2016 Healthy Living

Caregivers: Your Guide to Respite Care

Providing ongoing care for a relative or friend who is elderly, chronically ill, or disabled can be very rewarding. But it is also a demanding, life-changing role that can take a toll emotionally, physically, and psychologically. If you are a caregiver for a loved one, respite care services can help you maintain balance in your life, relieve the inevitable stress that comes with the role, and restore your energy level and general outlook.

What is Respite Care?

Respite care is planned or emergency care given on a temporary basis to a dependent individual with special needs when his or her usual caregiver is unavailable, unable to provide certain care, or is in need of a break from the responsibilities of caregiving. As capable, calm, compassionate, and loving as you may be, it is important to seek out support occasionally – before you become exhausted, overwhelmed, or isolated in your role. It is also an important strategy for preserving your health and nurturing your own personal relationships.

Respite Care to the Rescue

After my father had a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair, my siblings and I arranged for him to be cared for in an assisted living facility near my home. At the time, I had two children under the age of 4, and I knew that I could not provide the 24/7 care he needed, nor was our turn-of-the-century home set up for easy handicap access. But he was only 10 minutes away, and I would visit him several times a week, often with my daughters or my husband in tow.

We also had a lakeside cottage where my father had loved to stay when he was able-bodied. So we made some minor modifications to the cottage – adding a ramp to the deck and converting the dining area to a bedroom equipped with a hospital bed – to give Dad a three-season change of scenery and an opportunity to enjoy his grandkids and the sights and sounds of the lake environment for two to three days once or twice a month.

I remember well the challenge of trying to meet his needs and those of my young children during those visits, a feat made more difficult because the stroke had robbed my father of the ability to speak. There were a thousand competing demands on my time and energy every day. When you’re trying to transfer your father from wheelchair to bed and he is urgently trying to communicate something and your toddler is crying and comes running to be comforted – how do you choose who to help first? There were times that the effort to balance their needs reduced me to tears. It was then that I came to realize the value of respite care, even if it just afforded me an opportunity to take a walk or a swim alone, without responsibility for anyone but myself.  After such a break, I could resume my mom/caregiver responsibilities with renewed calm and a more positive perspective. 

My advice? Accept help when offered. Even a brief respite from caregiving can “rescue” your attitude and state of mind and preserve your relationship with loved ones.

How Can You Tell You Need a Break?

Caregiving can be quite stressful, and if you’re not receiving the emotional and physical support you need, the stress can become overwhelming and lead to even bigger problems. Plus, you risk losing your effectiveness as a compassionate, competent caregiver. If you’re experiencing any of the signs and symptoms listed below, it’s time to reconsider your situation and develop a support network.

  • Trouble sleeping and/or persistent fatigue
  • Increasing irritability or resentment toward the person you’re caring for
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Eating, drinking, or smoking more than usual
  • Disinterest in activities that you once found enjoyable or social withdrawal
  • Increased susceptibility to illness
  • Self-neglect (skipping meals, poor hygiene, lack of exercise)
  • Feelings of helplessness

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Respite Care Planning and Options

Respite care can take many forms, including in-home, out-of-home, online, formal, or informal. The level of support that’s appropriate will depend on your needs as a caregiver and the needs of the person for whom you’re caring. As emergencies or unexpected situations can arise at any time, it’s always a good idea to assess your needs and line up back-up caregivers before those unplanned circumstances occur.

Planning for Respite Care

Think about what type of support you need the most. Is it regularly scheduled time to yourself? Help with transporting your loved one to appointments? Assistance preparing meals? You should also be careful to consider your loved one’s care requirements, physical and mental abilities, and general preferences. Do they need skilled medical or nursing care? Mental stimulation? Exercise? General supervision to keep them safe?

In-home Respite Care

In-home respite care may be something as simple as a family member, trusted neighbor, or friend coming over to sit and talk with your elderly parent or disabled child while you run an errand. Or maybe you could use the assistance of a personal care or home health aide to help bathe, toilet, feed, or dress your loved one. If caregiving does not afford you the time to clean the house, do laundry, shop for groceries, or prepare nutritious meals, you might consider engaging a homemaker service a couple days a week. There are also online tools, such as CareCalendar, Lotsa Helping Hands, or CarePages, to help keep friends and family informed and to create a schedule for those in your support network to prepare meals or provide in-person relief. Alternatively, if the treatment regimen for your loved one is complicated, it may be appropriate to bring in a skilled care service provider to administer medicines or other treatments. You can sometimes find volunteer helpers through faith-based organizations, community agencies, or local caregiving co-ops, as well.

Out-of-home Respite Care

If you work outside the home or are planning a trip, a community respite care program might be the best option for your dependent loved one. Many adult or young adult day care programs for the elderly or disabled are staffed by trained professionals and provide supervision and social interactions during the daytime, as well as meals, health monitoring, personal care, and recreational activities. If you’ll be traveling, you may want to explore whether residential facilities, such as local group homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, or nursing homes, offer overnight or short-stay respite care.

Online Resources

There are numerous online resources available that provide general information and tips about caregiving, as well as assistance with locating respite care services in your community. The list below is just a sample of the many resources available:

ARCH National Respite Locator

Eldercare Locator

AARP Caregiving Resource Center

Center for Disability Services Respite Services (Albany, NY)

New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities

National Alliance for Caregiving

Family Caregiver Alliance®

Members of the CDPHP Care Team can also help you access community resources to support you in your role as caregiver.

Above all, keep in mind that no one can “do it all” when it comes to caregiving. It is not an admission of failure to seek and accept help from others. Indeed, in the long term, it’s the only way you will be able to continue to meet your loved one’s needs while maintaining the life and relationships you hold dear.

Adele O'Connell
About the Author

Adele joined CDPHP in 2004 as an internal communications and event specialist. She then spent eight years coordinating the company’s community relations and corporate events program, in which capacity she worked with a host of non-profit organizations and co-chaired the CDPHP annual Charity of Choice campaign. Currently, she is a communications specialist and coordinator of corporate member engagement and serves on the boards of two local charities. Prior to CDPHP, Adele served as a legislative assistant for a trade association and as an acquisitions and developmental editor, specializing in educational and medical publishing. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Rosemont College.

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