Whether you realize it or not, when you become a caregiver you are living someone’s illness. And living it almost every waking moment. Though many caregivers feel playing this role was one of the best things they ever did for themselves and their loved one, you cannot completely sacrifice yourself in the process.
You need to get help and get help early. Many experts in caregiving advise that if you’ve been caring for a loved one more than a month or two it is time to consider respite care. Tell your hospice nurse that you are interested in planning for respite care. If you are worried about leaving, your hospice nurse can comfort you by giving you an honest assessment of your loved one’s condition. Do they have months, weeks, or only days left? Of course if it is days, you’ll want to stay. But if it is weeks or months then taking a break may be the best plan.
Respite care, in reality, is care for you—the caregiver. Respite care is short-term, temporary relief provided for those who are caring for a family member and it is offered by most hospices. When respite care is arranged, it can either be provided in the home or, sometimes your loved one may be moved temporarily to a higher care facility. Respite provides the much needed, temporary break from the often exhausting challenges the family caregiver faces. Respite has been shown to help sustain family caregiver health and well-being, and avoid or delay out-of-home placements. Without respite, not only can families suffer economically and emotionally, caregivers themselves may face serious health and social risks as a result of stress associated with continuous caregiving.
Often when we’re caught up in caring for a loved one, we don’t realize the toll that it is taking on our own personal health and well-being. We lose sleep, we become too busy to eat well, often missing meals or we find ourselves eating more junk food, we forego exercise. If friends or family are telling you that you need to take a break they most likely see the toll your role of caregiver has taken. Sometimes others can see what we can’t. And though you don’t want to be away and you take great joy in caring for your loved one, you need to take breaks. Respite care will allow you to get some much needed time away so you can continue to fulfill your role as caregiver. Ask your hospice nurse to help you schedule a long weekend or even a week and get away. Your loved one will have the care they need and you will be able to rejuvenate.
There are several types of respite care that may be available to you and your loved one.
In Home Respite
If keeping your loved one at home is feasible and important you can arrange for in-home respite care. A temporary caregiver comes to your home, gets to know your loved one, their needs, and their normal routine. In this model, friends, relatives and paid professionals may be used. Depending on the state, Medicaid or Medicare may be used to help cover costs.
Higher Care Facility
Another option is to use a specialized, local facility where your loved one may stay for a few days or a few weeks. Many higher care facilities provide temporary respite care. Your hospice nurse can help you determine your options.
Emergency Respite Care
Since life is unpredictable it is good to pre-plan for emergency respite care. This allows you to have options if you suddenly have to be away for things like work-related issues, funerals, or if other family members or friends may need you, etc. Talk to your hospice nurses about options for emergency respite care. Many adult day care, health centers, and residential care facilities provide emergency respite care.
Sitter Companion Services
Sitter companion services are sometimes provided by local civic groups, the faith community, and other community organizations. A regular sitter companion can provide friendly respite care for a few hours, once or twice a week. This service will allow you to get away for a few hours and take care of other things or just have some much needed ‘me time.’ Most likely your hospice provider can arrange for sitter companion services. Many hospices have highly-trained volunteers available to sit with your loved one.
Caring for a loved one can be very fulfilling and an incredibility loving experience, but it is also extremely exhausting. Give all that you can but realize you have personal limits. Respect those limits because if you want to keep caring for your loved one, you have to take care of yourself. Respite care will allow you to do just that.