Respite care

What is respite care?

Respite care is when someone takes over for the care of a sick, developmentally disabled, physically disabled, elderly or terminally ill person. The regular caregiver is usually a family member; the respite care worker offers relief from the stress and strain of caring for another person. A respite worker may come in for several hours or stay for weeks, depending on the needs of the regular caregiver.

Deeper definition

Unpaid family caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours each week caring for a loved one. Nearly 1 in 4 spends 41 hours or more. Caregiving is stressful, emotionally and physically, no matter how much love is involved. It is natural to become so involved in caring for someone else that caregivers fail to see to their own needs.

Many of the estimated 50 million caregivers in the U.S. today suffer from stress, exhaustion, depression, a sense of isolation, and physical ailments exacerbated by the demands of their day. In order to recharge, it is important that caregivers let go and allow someone else to carry the burden for a time.

Caregivers cannot stop the impact of a chronic illness or debilitating injury on their loved one. They can, however, take responsibility for their own emotional and physical health. They can schedule periods of time during which they can renew and be better prepared to take care of someone else.

Caregivers should make a plan for respite care and time away (even if it is just in the backyard with a book). Here are suggestions:

  • Get your loved one involved. Let them know they will benefit from you feeling refreshed. Ask for their input as to how much time you will be away and if they have a preference as to who will fill in for you while you are gone. Emphasize the fact they are also going to have the opportunity to socialize with someone other than you.
  • Make a list of what is needed in your absence. Write out your schedule in order to keep your loved one’s day as routine as possible. Decide whether the person providing respite care needs special skills or training in order to do what you do. If so, create a list of potential respite workers based on qualifications needed.
  • Think big. Look at family members, but then look beyond to church groups or social clubs that may offer companionship.
  • Start a respite co-op. Form a network of other families in your situation and either trade off respite times or share resources.
  • Look at community programs. Some communities offer adult day care services, including health monitoring, recreation, therapy, and help with hygiene.
  • Check residential facilities. There is no shame in a caretaker taking a vacation. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities often have short-term options for those looking for temporary care.
  • Take advantage of online search tools. Sites such as ARCH National Respite Network provide links to respite providers in your area.

Respite care example

Many caregivers feel guilty even thinking about respite care for their loved one, and it can be especially difficult for a husband or wife to leave the care of their spouse to someone else.

The value of respite care is in what it does for both the caregiver and the person being cared for. Time away, even if it is only a few hours, can offer a caregiver a sense of renewal, a reminder that they are important, too. It gives them the opportunity to re-energize, maintain social relationships, run errands, or simply do something they enjoyed before they became a caregiver.

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