What it is:
Respite services are amongst the most valuable, and under-utilized, services in the caregivers tool box. The truth be told, many people really do not know what it is. Respite is a break for the full time caregiver who receives no pay. It is a way for a spouse, sibling, child or friend, who provides care, to take a break and address personal issues. It should not be confused with the taking on of a full or part time health aide or caregiver. Rather, it is the utilization of a trusted person or agency for a few hours that can allow the primary caregiver to run errands, address personal issues, or just plain take a break.
This service is under-utilized for a variety of reasons. A lack of awareness is one. Not knowing that this valuable (and actually common) service is available for caregivers. A lack of the facts is another common reason. As a caregiver, you are more likely than not focused on the condition and needs of the person you are providing care to. However, caregivers also suffer from an array of health ailments related to providing care. Did you know:
- Family caregivers who provide over 30 hours of care weekly are more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety than non-caregivers. For those caring for a spouse the rate is six times higher; for adult children caring for a parent the rate is twice as high.
- Family caregivers suffer a chronic condition at more than twice the rate as non-caregivers.
- Stress from providing care can take as much as ten years off a family caregiver’s life.
- Elderly spousal caregivers with their own history of illness, and who are experiencing care-related stress, have a 63 percent higher mortality rate than non-caregiving peers.
Finally, one of the reasons that this valuable service is often overlooked is that as good people, we tend to blend our roles. We do not separate spouse and caregiver, or child and caregiver, or friend and caregiver. We tend to feel obligated as a spouse, child, or friend to also be the caregiver. In turn, we often do not recognize that we need a break from time to time to refresh ourselves or re-charge our “batteries”. As a spouse, child or friend we do not feel entitled to a break, even though we are most definitely in need of a break! Respite is an opportunity to step away, take a deep breath and take a little bit of your life back.
Why it is important:
The importance of Respite both as a service and as a concept cannot be understated. Respite services allow the primary caregiver to rest, re-charge, and re-establish themselves. These breaks allow the caregiver to reduce stress levels, and therefore, provide better care. Furthermore, by taking a break and reducing their stress levels, the caregiver is giving their own immune system a boost, which can help alleviate ailments related to caregiver stress. Respite allows the caregiver to re-establish their patience. This re-establishment is therapeutic for both the caregiver, and the person who is receiving care. It is also an important preventive measure to help protect against unintentional dependent adult abuse. A couple of weekly hours costs very little, and in terms of preventing caregiver burnout, or dependent adult abuse, it is absolutely priceless.
How to start with loved one:
To provide the best care, plan ahead. The best course of action when considering providing care for a loved one is to begin discussing the individuals wants and needs before they actually need care to be provided. While it may feel uncomfortable, a conversation about the persons’ needs and what you have observed about the persons’ physical or mental condition as a spouse, child or friend, will help ensure that the best course of action for both of you will be taken.
Be sensitive about your spouse, parent, or friend’s pride. It is not easy for any person in any stage of their life to admit that they need help in any way, shape, or form. Have an honest adult discussion about what you observe as a need, and what they perceive as a need. Speak with the other person as an adult and avoid baby-talk. Look for ways to preserve the independence and skills that they are currently maintaining. Do not complete tasks for them if they can independently do it themselves. Part of being a caregiver is helping the person you are providing care for feel good about themselves. Finally, after the caregiving process has begun, observe what you see and note it. Seeing someone you care about change can be scary. Seeing these changes and not addressing them can be dangerous.
Finally, make Respite a part of the plan. Develop a partnership with a respite provider that can not only meet the basic needs of the individual, but provide even more than you. The Adult Day Center (A.D.C.) of Senior Resources is also a respite provider. Attending an A.D.C. will not only give you a break, but it will provide your loved one with an opportunity for friendship, fun and games, and a new environment. One half day (4 hours or less) at our A.D.C. can cost as much, and sometimes even less, than one hour with a home health aide. Eliminating stress, financial or otherwise, should be a part of your plan of care for your loved one.
Before and After Day One:
Prior to using respite, meet with the provider, or tour the facility with your loved one. New experiences can be challenging and sometimes scary. Allow time to meet people and share information. Understand that providers themselves have paperwork requirements to ensure that they are doing everything that they can (and should) be doing. Have a list ready. Let the Respite provider know exactly what needs to be done for your loved one to make them as comfortable as possible. Ask questions and be honest. If your spouse, parent, or friend has special needs, or otherwise requires special attention, make sure that the Respite provider can meet those needs. Be as detailed as possible. List medications, food likes/dislikes, hygienic needs, anything that can help the respite provider provide the best care.
Finally, give it some time. It is not always easy to break from a routine. It is also never easy to transition from a familiar caregiver to a new one. Expect to hear some complaints. Be supportive and encouraging. Encourage your loved one to give the process some time. If in time they are still dissatisfied, talk it out and see if a compromise can’t be reached. If a resolution cannot be found, then perhaps seeking another provider is in order. Remember, a transitional period is not uncommon at all. More often, after a few days, we find that our spouse, parent, or friend has come to love their new provider and environment.