Respite Care: A Caregiver’s Best Friend

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 01 June 2009

Many assisted living facilities offer respite care, a valuable service for family caregivers. In fact, you can search for respite providers here on SeniorsforLiving.

Merriam-Webster describes respite as an interval of rest or relief. These intervals can vary in length, purpose and location. Sometimes, a family member needs major surgery and cannot care for his loved one during the three-week recovery period. Maybe a spouse who has been caring for her husband with Alzheimer’s needs a break as she feels her patience wearing thin. Maybe an elderly parent who lives with his children & grandchildren doesn’t want to join the family on their summer trip to Disney – but cannot stay home alone. Respite stays are flexible and can be tailored to meet each unique situation; services can be provided in home or at a facility.

It is crucial that caregivers take care of themselves no matter what their age or what level of care they provide. Caregiver burnout is all too common; feelings of guilt often prevent these dedicated people from setting aside their duties and allowing themselves “down time” in order to continue providing quality care.

To maximize the respite experience, some advanced planning is necessary. Of course, making arrangements is part of that – reserving a room at a local facility or coordinating companions to come into the home – but the caregiver needs to think about her own needs too. What would be the most relaxing or enjoyable way to spend the time off? For some, the best way to recharge is talking/socializing with friends or family. Others need time alone. Cleaning the house might not be the best way to relax, but for those who take comfort in order, it might be a productive task.

An extensive article on HelpGuide.org offers “Respite 101″ for families, including a great list on how to make a routine of rest and rejuvenation.

Remembering the benefits and following these six tips can ease the process:

  • Plan and schedule frequent breaks. Respite is not just a service – it is an outcome that requires regular relief.
  • Use checklists to teach providers about your care recipient’s schedules, likes and dislikes. Offer suggestions for handling behaviors.
  • Make back-up plans. Always keep a list of alternate providers and resources. Unplanned emergencies should not prevent you from taking care of yourself.
  • Evaluate often. Observe your care recipient before and after respite sessions. Ask for brief updates and more detailed reports regularly.
  • Expect changes. Respite care is a process that often requires fine-tuning, Anticipating and accepting changes in personnel or programs can keep you from becoming discouraged.
  • Attend your support group regularly. Structured and informal groups allow you to meet others in situations much like yours. You can talk, vent, laugh, and exchange tips with people who understand. If you can’t easily leave home, online communities, message boards and forums can provide much-needed support.

If someone you love is in need of respite care but is overwhelmed about taking that first step, offer assistance. Use the search functions here on Seniors for Living. Share articles like the one on HelpGuide.org, or from other respected sites such as the Family Caregiver Alliance or the National Family Caregivers Association. So many resources are available, but a caregiver that is nearing burnout likely will need gentle encouragement and a strong sense of direction to overcome/outweigh those feelings of guilt. And, hopefully, after that first afternoon off, it will become easier to turn that afternoon into a weekend away and finally work up to that full week of rest.

- Michelle Seitzer

There are 7 Comments about this post

  1. [...] Seitzer presents Respite Care: A Caregiver’s Best Friend posted at Seniors For [...]


    on 09 June 2009 / 6:34 PM

  2. [...] a great program!


    on 23 June 2009 / 11:41 AM

  3. [...] Summertime is vacation time for many, which is why this latest edition of Seniors & Boomers: News You Can Use is a bit leaner than usual. Yet still, there is an abundance of resourceful blogs here that focus on baby boomer trends, caregiving, senior living, and more — perfect for summer down time reading. Senior Caregiving It may be summer, but for many caregivers, there’s no such thing as vacation time. In fact, more and more caregivers are forgoing “me” time altogether as a sacrifice to their loved one. However, there is such a thing as “caregiver burnout,” which our SeniorsforLiving.com blogger, Michelle Seitzer, writes about in Respite Care: A Caregiver’s Best Friend. [...]


    on 28 July 2009 / 12:20 AM

  4. Great resource for those providing senior home care for their aging parents! I just stumbled this and will be adding it to my Delicious bookmarks and Twitter as well :) Thank you for all the info and links.


    on 31 July 2009 / 1:30 PM

  5. McCune says,

    what do you suggest if you do not love or like the person with dementia? Yet you are expected to care for them.


    on 01 August 2009 / 5:59 PM

  6. Michelle says,

    Thanks for the feedback, Kaye! I appreciate you passing it on as well.


    on 02 August 2009 / 8:33 PM

  7. MSeitzer says,

    To McCune,
    Sorry for the delay in response. Yours is a very difficult question to answer, but I would expect that there are many others in your situation. I don’t know that I have an answer for you, but I will say that respite is just as much of a necessity for you because you are perhaps not as emotionally engaged in caring for this person…or perhaps it is a different type of emotion, where you are struggling to meet the person’s needs even as you don’t “care” for or love/like them. It’s a challenging situation, because in times of difficulty (which will occur in the journey of every dementia caregiver), there is less of a desire to help the person because you don’t love/like them. You aren’t pushed forward by love/devotion even when it’s tough, you are pushed by obligation or whatever circumstances have placed you in the situation. I would say that a support group could be just as helpful for you to vent about your issues; perhaps seek out a support group that is designed specifically for people in your situation. No matter what you decide, know that there are others in your shoes, and that your job is extremely difficult so be sure to give yourself the respite and distance that you need to provide the care despite the strained situation.


    on 08 August 2009 / 11:27 AM


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