This past spring I had the opportunity to take a break from my responsibilities as a caregiver to my 86 year old mother. As much as I enjoy the companionship, love, and kindness I receive from my mother, sometimes I need time for myself. Many caregivers including myself find it difficult to take a respite if for no other reason than logistically it is not possible.
In my situation, I was given a respite scholarship from our local ASAP (Aging Services Access Point), Elder Services of Worcester, in my home state of Massachusetts. Essentially how the scholarship program works is that once a year Elder Services pays for the care my mother needs during my absence. Typically, there is a monetary cap on how much is provided, but in my experience, the scholarship has always been very generous and has paid for the necessary care needed for my mother.
Certainly, this an avenue that many caregivers should explore and contact their local senior center and/or town social worker, senior outreach worker, or ASAP (if available in your community) to find out what type of respite services are available. Fortunately, Massachusetts has several ASAPs which provide respite programs, allowing me to spend one week in Maine.
Seeking out community programs and services that enable caregivers themselves to take time is crucial so as not to burnout. Burnout can only lead to a no win situation for both the caregiver and the caregiver recipient. That is why it is imperative that caregivers themselves find time to engage in activities that fulfill their own needs. Investigate community resources and take advantage of them. Frequent respite care will not only benefit the caregiver but the recipient as well.
Furthermore, formal caregivers (social workers, physicians, nurses, geriatric care managers) will utilize personal time off from their work related responsibilities in order to avoid burnout. It is therefore equally important for the family (informal) caregiver to take personal time as well.
So often we talk about successful aging as it relates to older adults so that quality of life can be achieved and maintained. However, we need to also concentrate our efforts on making sure that caregivers are able to achieve and maintain quality of life so that they, too, can succeed and experience successful aging.
Unfortunately, in many instances the caregiver’s life is compromised by the rigorous demands the recipient requires. The caregivers’ needs are neglected not because they don’t matter but sometimes it is not possible to be relieved of their responsibilities. In my own situation, I exclusively care for my mother and do not have family to rely on to help me out which is often a familiar situation that many caregivers can identify with. So it becomes even more difficult to find time to spend away.
Caregivers need to find the necessary passages in life to take so that they don’t reach a fork in the road in which they become overwhelmed by not knowing what direction their life will take. In other words, caregivers need to feel that their lives do have meaning independent of the caregiver recipient.
In fact, many caregivers feel deprived and overlooked. We know that caregivers make many sacrifices and that often their work and personal lives change. Full-time employment perhaps may evolve into part-time work. Making arrangements for medical, financial, and social care for the caregiver recipient may become the caregiver’s principal focus. In many instances, the caregiver’s aspirations, dreams, and goals are placed on hold.
Having a “time out” actually can be an invigorating experience. Respite care provides the time to restore energy levels and lift the caregiver’s spirits. I know that my recent trip to Maine allowed me to recapture my own sense of self and revisit my own life goals and future aspirations. However, I was eager to return home to my mother even though she requires a great deal from me. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Time today spent with my mother is precious, and that is why I need to make sure that I don’t lose out on that by pushing aside my own needs.
And finally, respite care doesn’t necessarily have to be a planned vacation away from home, but can be provided in many ways. For instance, respite care might include: a night of dining out; an afternoon visit with a friend; a day at the SPA; or even a walk in the park. The important thing to keep in mind is that respite care is for the benefit of the caregiver and the special time spent will be time well spent.
So I would encourage any caregiver to seek respite care. You are worth it and so is the person you care for!
Rita Dichele holds Masters’ degrees in Counseling and Healthcare Administration. Currently, she is an advanced doctoral learner at Capella University where she is writing her dissertation on successful aging. Rita resides in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts and serves as a board member on the Council on Aging. She is a town appointee for the Shrewsbury Cultural Council, facilitates two groups at the Shrewsbury Senior Center, and is a certified SHINE Medicare/Medicaid counselor. Rita is also a past presenter at the 2009 American Society on Aging Conference.