For many, the many challenges of caring for an elderly, chronically ill, or disabled family member are simply a part of daily life. Caregiving, though, is a demanding, difficult job and no one is equipped to do it alone. Since your health and resilience are critical for your loved one’s welfare, it’s essential for both of you that you get appropriate help when you need it.
Respite care provides short-term breaks that can relieve stress, restore energy, and promote balance in your life. Even if working with family members or friends is difficult, there are many other respite care options and strategies that can ensure you get the help you need to restore your energy reserves and better fulfill your role as caregiver to your loved one.
Respite care basics
Seeking support and maintaining your own health are key to managing your role as a caregiver. Using respite care before you become exhausted, isolated, or overwhelmed is ideal, but just anticipating regular relief can become a lifesaver.
Respite care can take many forms, but boils down to two basic ideas: sharing the responsibility for caregiving and getting support for yourself. Finding the right balance requires persistence, patience, and preparation.
Planning starts with analyzing needs…both yours and your loved one’s. Assessing your needs for the type, skills, frequency, and location of respite services is critical to ensuring you receive appropriate respite. As a caregiver, is support what you need most? Or is it some regular free time? Or help with transportation? Keep track of your daily activities then make a list of the areas and times when you most need help.
Identifying your loved one’s requirements, abilities, and preferences will also help you find the right match. Are social activities primary? Do they require assistance with walking, eating or medications? Do they need mental stimulation? Or exercise? Answering these questions will help you determine which respite options to pursue.
Types of respite care services
- Informal family support and relief
- Online caregiver communities and video workshops
- Volunteer or paid companionship
- Personal care or skilled health assistance
- Adult day programs
- Residential respite care
- Caregiver support groups
Engaging family members in respite care
Family members and friends may be able to help out while you run an errand, take a break, or even go on vacation. However, just as the burden of caregiving is often more than one person can handle – it can also be a tough process for families to share.
Even the healthiest families can be severely stressed by ongoing care, and the division of labor is frequently lopsided. You can encourage support and participation by:
- Talking openly and regularly. Keep everyone up to date on your loved one’s needs and condition. Family members who don’t share the day-to-day caretaking experience may not fully appreciate the situation.
- Encouraging family members to evaluate what they can reasonably and honestly do. Changing roles and varying resource levels can impact family involvement. Welcome different viewpoints, accept limitations, and be willing to try alternate strategies. Share your list of needs and take advantage of all offers to help.
- Recognizing your own feelings and discussing disproportionate tasks. Harboring resentment when you need more help can lead to your burnout and impaired health. Ask directly for concrete support and specific time commitments. Consider establishing an online calendar to organize relief and reconfirm schedules.
- Using technology to bridge distances. Try free video conferencing services to hold family meetings at times that work for everyone. Create a web-based community to share updates and explore options.
- Exploring a family respite cooperative. Consider trading respite services with other caregivers and their families. Pooling resources with others in the same situation can encourage greater involvement, reduce costs, and increase flexibility.
- Participating in support groups. Learning how other families cope can suggest new options and provide reassurance. When siblings are unable or unwilling to share the load, peer support can be invaluable.
In-home respite care
In-home services can be provided by volunteer or paid help, occasionally or on a regular basis. Services may last from a few hours to overnight, and may be arranged directly or through an agency. This popular respite choice enables the patient to remain in his or her own home, and can be invaluable for caregivers. Consider which of these options might meet your needs:
- Stimulation, recreation, and companionship can be provided by family members, friends, or neighbors while you take a break. Faith-based, community, and other non-profit organizations recruit volunteers, while home-care businesses provide trained staff to cover short in-home intervals.
- Personal care providers assist with daily living skills such as bathing, dressing, feeding, or toileting. Homemaker services support meal preparation, shopping, and housekeeping. Skilled health care, which requires more specialized training and experience, addresses medical needs.