Ask a round-the-clock family caregiver how many breaks she takes, and the answer is usually “not many” or, even worse, “none.”
We know that time away from our caregiving roles is absolutely necessary. And yet it's easier said than done.
In the absence of a strong team of co-caregivers, respite care is invaluable. Respite care is temporary substitute assistance that allows family caregivers to step away from their duties for a bit.
They can be relieved for a few hours, a full day or overnight, or a stint of days or weeks. Despite the relief, many caregivers may face barriers or personal resistance to using this all too important resource.
It took a total physical burnout for me to accept respite help for my mother. She was physically fragile, recovering from brain surgery and intensive chemotherapy and radiation.
I wouldn't, and couldn't, leave her. My fear of her having a medical complication or even passing away in my absence kept my thoughts rooted in the mind-set that no one can do what I do.
The reality was that calling in respite care helped me do even better.
A cobbled-together network of hospice aides, a home health agency and a private caregiver gave me more time to manage my mom's medical plan and day-to-day household needs, my job and the opportunity to step away from the grind to see my husband and get a bit more rest. Without exaggeration, respite care spared me a mental breakdown.
Did I learn my lesson the first time? Not at all!
Recently, my husband was physically incapacitated — 100 percent unable to walk, stand or even sit up. He was sent home from the hospital with the instructions: “Do not try to get out of bed for at least a month, probably more.”
Suddenly, we were down a set of extremely necessary hands in our house. We had a toddler, and I had just opened a law firm.
Again, thrust unexpectedly into a 24-hour caregiving role, I went about it with that same mind-set. I can handle all of this, I thought. No one can do what I do.
That is, until my back went out and I needed to seek my own medical attention.
Get help and advice on caring for a loved one at home with AARP's Care Guide