Respite Care: 4 Ways to Prevent Caregiver Burnout

What is “Respite Care?” Home Care. Health Care. Nursing Care.  Most of us can understand these terms.

Caretaker Stress, Caregiver Burnout, Respite
Feeling a frayed around the edges? You need some respite before you snap!

But what is “Respite” Care? Some new marketing buzz word?  Well, to be honest, Respite Care is partly a marketing buzzword, but there is some substance at the core. Because caregiver burnout is real, and respite care is how to prevent it from overtaking you.

I just got back from my own vacation so this is on my mind as I begin to “re-enter” my day-to-day routine.

We take vacations to rest, to recharge our batteries. Even if we take a very active vacation – kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, skiing or just lounging at a beach or pool (that’s my style!) – it is the mental and physical break with our normal routine that allows us to come back refreshed and ready to fight the good fight again.

For caregivers – especially when family based– it is rare to get a break from an often grueling routine. The caregiver’s role takes a toll mentally, physically – even spiritually. And often the need for care is 24/7, 365 days a year, holidays, and weekends, year after year.

Caregiver stress – and Caregiver Burnout – is real. These conditions can have very negative side effects. They can lead to neglect or even abuse of the one needing care; they can lead to physical and mental decline or breakdown for the caregiver.

This is the situation that Respite Care is meant to prevent.

It means exactly what it sounds like, but it is for the caregiver, not the one for whom they are caring.  Caregivers need and deserve a break.  But how is that to be accomplished?  You can’t just put out a bowl of fresh water, some dry food, clean litter pan and leave for a few days.

There are many solutions to this problem. At the simplest level, other family members can (and should) step in from time to time to assist a primary caregiver. Primary caregivers are frequently equally frail as their spouse and themselves may be in precarious health too. Adult children should be watchful for this and be willing to assist or take over if they can.  We, as children, are so accustomed to Mom in her accustomed caregiver role that we lose sight of the fact that not only can she not care for Dad, she may not even be able to care for herself adequately anymore. Not without help anyway.

Alternate, unpaid family members are not always possible or practical even on a temporary basis. Sometimes there are no alternative family caregivers. No children perhaps, or difficulties have led to estrangement. Or the one needing care has outlived all the possible or willing family members.

A second possibility is to hire a paid caregiver. Most agencies now offer “respite care” services. You can hire an agency “sitter” for a few days (or even hours) while the primary caregiver takes a break – go shopping, go fishing, have lunch with the girls, play a round of golf, go to religious services, or just have some peace and quiet to read a book without the constant demands of a frail, sick or demanding elderly person.

A third solution is Adult Day Care. Most Senior Centers (Waynesboro, Charlottesville)  and Agencies on Aging (in Charlottesville/Jefferson District, that’s JABA in the Shenandoah Valley, that’s VPAS ) offer programs during the day where elderly people can go and have a meal, visit with others, take part in activities at whatever level their physical health allows. While in the care of the Day Care Provider (some have transportation and even pick up or drop off the one in need of care, or, in our area, transportation arrangements can be made through JAUNT  (434) 296-3184) While there, the caregiver can take the entire morning to clean the house, work in the garden, put their feet up and watch “Ellen,” have a second cup of coffee and drink it while its still warm.  Or have a whole afternoon free from having to prepare a hot meal and feed someone. Sit down with a bag of candy and watch Judge Judy without interruption. Or get on the phone and talk with a friend or someone else for a good long time. Take an uninterrupted nap. Read the newspaper front-page to the comics without having to get up 10 times.

Admit it, sounds good just to have a break for a morning or afternoon doesn’t it?

So…. How would you like the idea of getting an entire week’s respite? Two?

Its possible.  Many Nursing and Assisted Living facilities now offer Respite Care. Have Mom or Dad (or grandma or pa, or Uncle Joe or Aunt Jane?) visit a nursing facility – just for a week. They get a break from their normal routine too and you get a solid vacation.  They’ll get all their meals, medication, assistance with baths and getting dressed and maybe a little exercise (at the PT gym?)  They may get some intellectual stimulus of new faces and places. Take part in some activities provided by the Recreation Department. They might even enjoy any of the many religious, musical, teen volunteers, pet handlers or myriad other groups that visit such facilities on a regular basis.

Honestly, some of these solutions, especially the last, are likely to set you back a few bucks.  (though Adult Day Care are usually pretty cheap as they are often subsidized in whole or in part by gifts,  grants and government).

However, even if you really are hard up and having trouble making ends meet, there may be a respite solution for you too. In Virginia, contact the county or social services offices (the folks that administer Medicaid) where you live and ask about Elderly or Disabled with Consumer Direction Waiver” (I know, it’s a mouthful! They’ll know it as the EDCD Waiver). Most states will have the same or similar programs.  Among the many things they may be able to assist you with is Respite Care.

My own vacation was short. 5 days, and 4 nights. Two days driving. But the beach – even with my frail and elderly mother (she’s 83) – was enough to recharge my batteries AND enough to give my mother’s regular caregiver a break. And while Mom has a hard time getting down to the beach, she delighted in visiting with all my brother’s, sisters-in-law and the grandkids.

It’s amazing how things look brighter and your muscles and joints unwind when you finally unplug.

Hope you will find a way to do the same!


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