Respite - An Essential Part of Caregiving

Webster's dictionary defines respite as an interval of relief. For those family members caring for chronically ill, disabled, or elderly loved ones, it means getting a temporary break from their caregiving responsibilities. It is an essential piece of the caregiving role, however, too often, a piece that is difficult for caregivers to achieve.

Why should caregivers take respite? If you provide ongoing emotional support and/or physical care for a loved one, it is critical that you have the opportunity to recharge your battery" on a regular basis. This means taking time away from your caregiving duties to do those things that bring you pleasure and allow you to rest, relax and be "you". Without this, you are jeopardizing your own physical and emotional health and ultimately your ability to care for the person you love. Another consideration is the need for respite services should an emergency arise where you would be unable to provide care. You may have given some thought to who could care for your family member should you become ill or hospitalized. Establishing a relationship with that respite provider before the need arises will make it easier on you and the person you are caring for should you need help on short notice.

Respite care can be obtained in several different ways. It may occur in your home, another home, or a community setting. It can be provided by family and friends, church groups, service clubs, homecare agencies, adult daycare centers and long-term care facilities or a combination thereof. It can range from a few hours to overnight to weeks at a time. It can free you up to pursue a hobby, visit with friends, take a nap, take a trip. It allows you to replenish your energies so you can continue to provide for the needs of the person in your care.

There are, however, obstacles in the pursuit of respite. Caregivers themselves may not recognize the necessity of it and so may not seek it out. They may feel guilty about taking time for themselves or spending money on themselves when their family member is ill or infirm. They may feel they should be able to do it all and be reluctant to ask family and friends for help. They may find it difficult to turn over the caregiving responsibility to someone else when they have exclusively shouldered it for so long. Finally, depending on the caregiver's financial status, support network of family and friends and available community resources and services, it can often be challenging to locate and arrange suitable respite care. 

Recognizing that respite should not be considered a luxury but part of their job description is a hurdle that many caregivers and their families and communities need to make. Caregivers need to remind themselves that asking for help and accepting it is not a sign of inadequacy but a desire to enhance their ability to provide ongoing care. Enlisting the help of family and friends has the added benefit of affording other persons the opportunity to spend time with the elder, get to know them better, and learn first hand how to care.

Realizing that you need respite is the first step; figuring out how to get respite care for your loved one is the next and usually more difficult one. Often, there are family members and friends who are willing to help but uncertain what to offer. By asking, you may find you have a circle of respite care providers right in your midst. Contact local church groups and community service organizations. If they don't already offer such a service, they may be interested in organizing it once they know the need is there. Consider adult daycare. This not only will give you time away but provides a safe environment for your loved one to socialize and participate in varied recreational activities. Explore home care services in your area. Hiring someone to come in and take over your duties on a regular basis is money well spent. Seek out other caregivers by attending support groups and caregiver functions. Other caregivers themselves can be a wealth of information and may even be able to trade respite care. 

Arranging for respite care takes planning and persistence, but if you are a caregiver, it is one of the most important things that you can do for yourself and the person you are caring for.

For more information contact:

  • JABA's Adult Day Healthcare: 434-817-5219
  • Charlottesville-Piedmont Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association: 434-973-6122 - financial grants for respite care available for applicants meeting financial eligibility requirements.