When a person needs long-term care due to illness, special needs, or old age, family members are often the first line of defense for providing the care that person requires.  Typically the goal is to keep the person at home as long as possible rather than transitioning them to an assisted living or nursing home.  You may find yourself in this position, providing care for a spouse, an aging parent, or a child or sibling with special needs.  As long you are willing and able to provide the needed care, this can be a good way of supporting your loved one, respecting their wishes, and fulfilling your desire to express love through the care you provide.

That said, caregiving can be quite a challenge.  No matter how much you love the person you’re caring for and how strongly you desire to provide care yourself, caregiving can be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting.  In particular, conditions like dementia can take a psychological toll on family caregivers as they watch a beloved family member struggle with memory loss, personality changes, and sometimes difficult behavioral expressions.

If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’ve heard the pre-flight announcement about oxygen masks:  if the air pressure drops, put the mask on your own face before assisting someone else.  The idea isn’t that you should leave a loved one to fend for themselves; it’s that if you don’t put on your own mask, you may not be able to help them, and then you’ll both be in dire straits.  The same principle applies to caring for a loved one.  If you invest yourself in their care so much that you fail to care for yourself, you will become so depleted that not only will you suffer, but you will become unable to provide the best care to your loved one.  In the end, both of you will suffer.

That’s where respite care comes in.  Respite care is short-term care that allows the usual family caregivers to take a break, a chance to regroup and recharge their depleted reserves of energy and strength.  If you find yourself in a caregiving role, early in the process you should identify community resources that can provide respite care.  Plan to take advantage of those resources before you are completely worn out.  Here are a few examples of options:

Adult Day Services.  Also called “adult day care,” these are services available at many senior centers and care agencies to provide daytime activities for the person in need of care.  Not only do they offer a safe, supervised environment, but they also provide opportunities for social engagement, which is important for the physical and mental health of the elder or person with disability.  Enrolling the person who needs care in one of these programs can allow family caregivers time to go to work, run errands, get a massage, visit friends and family, keep appointments, or do anything else practical or fun that will help them maintain stability.

In-Home Caregivers.  Many agencies provide professional caregivers who can come to the home for a few hours a day or week, depending on the family’s needs.  If you need a break one or two days a week, or if you need to arrange care for a one-time occasion – such as when you are going to a family event or having a medical procedure done – you can contact these agencies to provide services for a limited amount of time.  Every agency has its own pricing structure and caregiving schedule, so it’s a good idea to call around, compare prices, and find out how far in advance you will need to make arrangements.  If you are in a rural area, your options may be more limited, so become familiar with the agencies that serve your area soon after you take on the caregiving role.

Facility Respite Care.  Most people are aware that assisted living facilities provide long-term care for elders.  What you may not know is that some assisted livings also offer short-term respite care placement.  This is an excellent option for a loved one who requires assistance with activities like bathing, taking medications, or eating or for someone with cognitive deficits who needs to be in a secure environment to prevent wandering or accidents.  Placing your loved one in a facility for a short-term stay can allow you to go on a trip to visit family or just have a few worry-free days at home to recharge.  It also gives you and your loved one an opportunity to gain direct experience with a particular care facility; that way, if your loved one later needs rehabilitation care or needs to move to an assisted living long-term, you will already have an established relationship.

Other Family Members.  There may be several reasons not to work with a professional respite caregiver:  the right services may not be available in your area, you may feel uncomfortable turning over your loved one’s care to a stranger, or it may be cost-prohibitive.  Only some insurance policies cover respite care.  Medicare or Medicaid may cover some costs, but only under certain conditions which your loved one may or may not meet.  If these or other factors make you pause, and if other family members are available, it may be time to circle the wagons and come up with a family plan for coordinating respite care.  This article from AARP offers suggestions on how to communicate with other family members to form an effective plan.

Respite care is an important component of care planning for a loved one.  If you are a primary caregiver, are worried about the wellness of someone providing care, or wish to plan ahead for your own care, our care coordinators would love to work with you to share resources and get a good plan in place.  Get in touch to start the conversation.