There’s no official summer vacation for caregivers. Many parents look forward to back-to-school days after a long stretch of entertaining the kids day in and day out, but caregiving for an older loved one is a 24-7/365-day commitment in which 44 million Americans find themselves engaged.
Caring for an older adult is overwhelming, and especially so when there seems to be no end in sight. There is no letter from the teacher saying she looks forward to welcoming your child in this year’s 4th grade class, no college tuition bill that means (despite shelling out a lot of cash) you can reclaim the basement for your own purposes. There is no universal “time-out” in caregiving, unless you plan for it.
Even if you enjoy your roles and responsibilities and enjoy a healthy relationship with the person for whom you provide home care, everyone needs a break from the emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, financial and relational drain that is caregiving. It might be the most fulfilling experience of your life, but it’s also likely to be the most exhausting.
This extreme exhaustion leads to stress, burnout, depression, and anger/frustration toward your family, friends and the person in your care, among other things. In some cases, a build-up of these negative responses and unhealthy coping mechanisms could lead to abuse of the care recipient, an outcome that should be avoided at all costs.
There are little things you can do to “escape” or recharge throughout the day (take a bath, go for a 5-minute walk, write in a journal), but caregivers should also plan for an extended time away from caregiving – a summer vacation, if you will – at least once a year, rather than face the grave consequences (for all parties involved) of not taking those time-outs seriously.
Respite care provides that crucial extended time away. Respite care can be that summer vacation for caregivers, but it’s a resource that, unfortunately, too many overlook or decline to accept for a number of different reasons (cost of care, difficulty in arranging care, availability of care, guilt, fears about entrusting the care recipient to another, etc.).
How do you know if you need respite care? All caregivers do, but there are definite red flags that indicate a break (or more help on a long-term basis) is needed ASAP, as per my post from Caregiving.com, “Evaluating the Caregiving State of Affairs”:
You will know when you and your loved one need more services if you feel…
you don’t have enough hours in the day for what needs to be done (both as a family caregiver and as a person with other responsibilities and needs of your own),
stressed out (i.e., you can’t sleep, you’re depressed, you lose your patience easily, you’re eating too much, etc.),
overwhelmed (Which meds does she get on what day? When is his next therapy appointment? Where is the cancer specialist’s office located?), or
exhausted, even after a good night’s rest.
As a caregiver, you’re constantly thinking of someone else’s needs. But in order to be a better caregiver, you have to be a little bit selfish. You work hard as a caregiver, and it’s 100 percent OK to reward yourself for it.
Take time to evaluate your own needs, to assess your own health and well-being, to plan for – and then actually follow-through on – respite care, so that you can be refreshed and renewed to provide the best possible care for your loved one.
Summer vacation isn’t just for school kids. As the temperatures rise outside, take the temperature of your own caregiving situation and begin searching for respite care resources now at the ARCH National Respite Network, or read more about the importance of “summer vacation for caregivers” in my posts, Respite Care: The Act of Looking Back and Senior Living Options: Respite Care Q&A.
Click here to read Michelle's article on communicating effectively with elders suffering from Alzheimer's titled, Don't Shut Down with Alzheimer's Patients!
Before settling down as a full-time freelance writer, Michelle Seitzer spent 10 years serving in various roles at assisted living communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland, then worked for several years as a public policy coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association's PA Chapters. She also served as a long-distance caregiver for her beloved grandfather, who died of complications from Alzheimer's in 2009. Seitzer has blogged for SeniorsforLiving.com, a senior housing resource company, since November 2008, and is the co-moderator of the first #eldercarechat on Twitter, held every other Wednesday at 1pm EST. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.