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Respite Care: Support for Family Caregivers
Despite its rewards, serving as a senior's primary caregiver can be demanding and stressful. Many others are in the same situation. An estimated 44 million Americans -- accounting for 21 percent of all U.S. households -- regularly care for an elderly relative or friend. Family and friends provide an estimated 80 percent of senior care.
There are many resources available to you. In the interest of your overall health -- and that of your family and the person you are caring for -- don't approach caregiving responsibilities as if you are alone.
Respite Care: Relief for the Family
No matter how much you love the person you are caring for, you need regular breaks from caregiving. Nonstop caregiving will drain your energy and take a toll on your physical, mental and emotional health.
If you will not do it for yourself, please consider that respite care also benefits the person you are caring for. After a break, you will return refreshed and more effective.
A respite could be just a day away with friends, an afternoon of personal errands or an exercise break. Or it could be a vacation away from it all.
You can find relief from numerous sources:
- Relatives and friends who can step in as needed
- Professional in-home senior care providers
- Churches and other volunteer organizations
- Adult day care centers
- Senior centers and the local Area Agencies on Aging
- The Department of Health and Human Services - www.eldercare.gov - Eldercare Locator
Often, family and friends want to help. They just do not know how. As a caregiver, you can make it easy on them -- and yourself -- by always having a list of assignments ready, like preparing meals, picking up a few things at the grocery, going on a walk with the senior or staying with him from time-to-time.
How to Care for Yourself & Prevent Caregiver Burnout
Besides scheduling regular respites, we recommend you practice the following to relieve stress and maintain optimal health:
- Exercise -- make it part of your schedule for added energy.
- Get plenty of sleep -- at least seven hours a night.
- Eat regular, well-balanced meals.
- Maintain contact with friends for essential emotional support.
- Stay involved in hobbies and social activities.
- Join a support group, which can encourage you and back you up with experienced advice.
- Seek support through your faith and faith community, which could be a good source of volunteer caregiving help.
- Visit your doctor regularly and share concerns you have about the effects of caregiving on your health.
- Take time to pamper yourself -- for instance, get a manicure or massage.
- Laugh. Find humor in everyday situations and take time out with a humorous book or movie.
- Keep a journal to record your thoughts and feelings. It provides an essential release for your emotions.
- Arrange for a family member, friend or volunteer from a church or senior center to call you on a regular basis to see if you need help.
- Confide in others. Do not bottle up your emotions.
- Know your limits. You know what other responsibilities you have, so be realistic about how much time you can give to caregiving. Do not be afraid to delegate.
- Learn as much as you can about caregiving and your loved one's needs or illness. The more you know, the more effective and more satisfied you can be.
Caregiver Support & Advice on the Web
You will find a wealth of online resources to provide caregiving support and advice. Here are a few examples:
- The Family Caregiver Alliance's state-by-state - www.caregiver.org - Family Care Navigator
- Strength for Caring - www.strengthforcaring.com - a resource center for caregivers
- Lotsa Helping Hands - nac.lotsahelpinghands.com - a site that allows family and friends to coordinate caregiving tasks online. The site is sponsored by the National Alliance for Caregiving
- Caregiving Resource Center - www.aarp.org - a comprehensive collection of caregiving articles and tools from AARP
- Preventing Caregiver Burnout - agingcarefl.org - from a resource guide for caregivers from the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas, Inc., in Florida
Before planning respite care, be sure to talk with your loved one about it, explaining the upside for everyone. To help your loved one accept the idea, be sure to involve him or her in making the arrangements.
Respite care helps the primary caregiver keep her life in balance and ends up benefiting the caregiver, the loved one she's caring for and her family.