Respite Care Arms Family Caregivers with Strength and Resolve

Do you know what respite is and the difference it can make when caring for your loved one?

By Clare Absher RN, BSN  

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How Respite Care Empowered My Family

I was honored to care for my adorable and charming late husband of 32 years during his struggle with a terminal illness. As his nurse, I tended to his personal care and comfort requirements. As his confidant, my focus was on his emotional and spiritual needs. I recognized that assuming this role of family caregiver and attending to his needs offered him a sense of ease and reassurance. However, make no mistake that I was extremely grateful for relief and support that came my way during this difficult time. Weekly meals delivered to our home from a local church, medical supplies picked up by friends, and transportation assistance to doctor appointments by neighbors afforded me some "downtime". My girlfriends on occasion would help re-energize me with a lunch out or a shopping excursion. My grown children moved home to assist with all aspects of caregiving that was invaluable to their father's emotional well-being. I found this positive support and relief known as respite to re-charge and revitalize all of us. Respite empowered my family with the strength and resolve to render the most ideal care to our very special loved one.

Even as an experienced nurse, I still found respite to be indispensable while caring for my dear, late husband. Clare Absher

Why Respite Care for Your Family?

As a home health nurse for several decades, I have observed countless families juggle caregiving tasks; some with success and others with disappointment. Frustration and exhaustion are common among caregivers who are control enthusiasts, micromanagers and those simply not willing to delegate care. When unable to relinquish the reins and allocate caregiving duties, these caregivers quickly become discouraged and set themselves up for failure. The famous quote "You can't take care of others if you can't take care of yourself" is especially true for family caregivers. Small acts of kindness from thoughtful friends and neighbors can make the biggest impact in your caregiving experience. This is why I encourage families to welcome and accept respite care in all of it's forms.

Respite Care Comes in Many Forms

It can be occasional, temporary, part-time, or long-term depending on the needs of the primary caregiver. It may be provided by a professional caregiver, family member, friend, neighbor, or a community volunteer. Respite care is offered in home settings but may also be provided as a short stay in a care facility. Long ago while working in an assisted living home, I was pleased to find that a room was reserved for families needing temporary room and board for elderly loved ones while away on vacation.

Respite comes in many forms such as meal preparation, grocery shopping, trips to medical appointments, personal care assistance or simply companionship. I recall a young family tasked with the care of their parents who discovered their respite came in the form of entrusting friends to take their children on weekend outings. Those families responsible for both the care of children and parents, otherwise known as the sandwich generation, must rely on respite to help balance their limited time and attention. Regardless of how respite is delivered, the need for respite is universal. Families need respite to successfully care for their loved ones, avoid unfounded guilt, and prevent serious risk of caregiver burnout.

How to Find Respite Care

Typically, the easiest way to find respite is by word of mouth and asking those closest to you (such as family members and friends) for help. Remember that often folks are sincere in wanting to help but unsure how to offer their services. Invite your sister to spend an evening each week with your mom to give you some alone time. Be sure to take time to handle your own personal needs while well-meaning friends come for a visit. Ask your church pastor to recruit eager fellow parishioners to organize and prepare weekly meals, or solicit helpful neighbors to pick up groceries. Be sure to have specific tasks in mind to assign for those willing to free you up for some guilt-free personal time.

Hiring a professional caregiver, whether privately or through a home care agency, frequently is the wisest choice for respite care. This form of respite allows family caregivers to depend on friends and family for more important, personal responsibilities without taxing them with menial tasks. For example, you might want to hire a nurse aid to perform routine personal care, night-time safety monitoring or on weekends for sitting with your loved one. Your family might be more supportive with emotional needs of your loved one and helping with important medical decisions. Calling upon family members is another very sensible choice to allow for well-deserved vacations.

However, hiring ongoing in-home care for respite needs can become expensive. If this hurdle arises consider supplementing with adult day care. Although not available in all areas, it is often much less expensive and can be the answer to your respite needs. Adult day care offers relief of daytime caregiving to reduce your duties to evening and nighttime care. Adult daycare should not be overlooked as it is a cost-effective and favorable choice for respite care.

In summary, respite allows busy caregivers to “take a break” or a “time out” from their demanding day to day schedules, duties and obligations. Respite prevents burnout while replenishing and energizing worn out caregivers. At the very least, it helps families to maintain and hold on when faced with the overwhelming responsibilities of caring for their parents and elderly loved ones. Respite care arms family caregivers with strength and resolve to sustain and even empower them to provide optimum care to loved ones.

Clare Absher RN BSN

About the Author

Clare Absher is a Registered Nurse with 44 years of experience. Most of her experience is in home health serving as a caregiver, educator, patient advocate, and liaison between families and community resources. She has also worked in acute care, assisted living, and retirement settings. She is passionate about helping families care for their elderly loved ones at home.

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