Family caregivers take on a tremendous amount of responsibility when they agree to oversee an aging family member’s care. Chris and I have owned a home care company for 20 years now, and we have seen too many family caregivers lose their own health while caring for another. I recently received a letter from the son of one of our clients, a woman who needed care for few weeks while she recovered from surgery. In the letter, he wrote,
“…I’ve seen the toll family caregivers take thinking they can do it all, and (I) wanted more for my family.”
One of the biggest mistakes a family caregiver can make is trying to go it alone with no help from others. This decision, a “Lone Ranger” mentality, can lead to irreversible damage to the caregiver’s physical health as well as their mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Even if you are the only family member that is available to become the family caregiver, that doesn’t mean you have to be the only person involved in giving care. Sharing care with others is a much more balanced approach to providing the best care possible while keeping yourself healthy as well.
Respite care should be a vital piece of your caregiving puzzle. Respite means to take a break or give temporary relief from a stressful situation. Having a respite care plan is essential to successfully navigating your season of caregiving for aging loved ones. Your plan could reflect several different solutions, and might involve other family members, friends, or neighbors, a brief facility stay or even a professional home care agency; any or all of these possibilities will benefit you greatly by providing you with a break from time to time.
If you choose to put together a plan that incorporates other family members, friends or neighbors you should carefully recruit and equip those individuals with the proper orientation and, if needed, training to be able to step in at a moment’s notice if necessary. Invite them to come and spend a morning or afternoon with you to understand what will be expected of them in their respite care role. Plan to work them into your schedule gradually, even a couple of hours here or there to start. Be available if they have questions. You could go to lunch with a friend or simply move to a different part of the house but keep your phone on and let your substitute work out the kinks before they are needed for a longer stay.
If your situation would be best served with a facility stay then check with local assisted living or skilled care facilities to see if they offer temporary stays for respite care. This might range from a couple of weeks up to a month or more. If you choose to supplement the care you provide with a professional home care company you should choose a company with a reliable reputation and well trained employees so you don’t find yourself in a lurch when the hired caregiver doesn’t show up. Ask about back-up plans and discuss compatibility criteria. The company will most likely want to visit with you and your loved one to set up the temporary or ongoing respite care. The more they understand about your loved one’s needs, and your own as well, the better chance they will have to create a schedule that best suits your needs.
Caregiving is stressful, but with support from others and a respite strategy you can be more consistent, more reliable, and more giving in the care you provide personally.
Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about the importance and value of a great respite care plan.