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Taking care of an aging or ill family member can be enormously rewarding and, at the same time, exhausting and emotionally draining. As a caregiver, you feed and read, clean up, make meals, change sheets, and offer comfort and good cheer. You manage your own life during the short, sometimes unpredictable lulls in your loved one’s schedule. Small wonder 38 percent of family caregivers rate their job as emotionally stressful.
Plowing through might feel doable in the short term, but too much time without a break can lead to caregiver burnout, depression and health problems. Short breaks help you make it through the long haul.
Step by Step: Design a Custom Respite Plan
Step 1: Know your needs and theirs
- What do you need? Three hours off, twice a week? Twenty-four hours away from the house? A regular caregiver’s day (or night) out with your spouse or friends? A combination of the above?
- What does your loved one need? Companionship? Meals? Light housekeeping? Personal care? Help transitioning to a wheelchair? Daily walks? Therapy? An aide with special skills? List every job, large and small.
Step 2: Compile a list of possible pinch-hitters
- Cast a wide net. List family, near and far, your friends and your loved one’s friends.
Step 3: Call a family meeting
Gather siblings, adult children, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles and other extended family. Include out-of-town family via Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts or other video-chat technology.
- Explain. Tell the group you need regular and as-needed time away from the family member you share. Do not wear your superhero cape or expect them to intuit your needs. Be specific about the caregiving the family member requires.
- Be flexible. If you need coverage on the same day at the same time, every week, say so — but remember, flexibility makes it easier for family to pitch in.
- Encourage questions. Many people expect caregiving to be overwhelming or fear making a mistake. Be specific about what’s required. For example: Make meals, give prescribed medicines, and offer compassion, conversation, comfort and assistance.
If an aide or medical professional is part of treatment, assure your helpers that they will arrive as scheduled. If a family member is uneasy about administering personal care, consider arranging to have a home health aide come in the morning and evening.
If your loved one has mobility issues, demonstrate how to assist the person.
If family members are worried that a health crisis will happen on their watch, tell them it’s possible and that if it does, they should call 911 right away. For a nonemergency concern, they should call the doctor.
Step 4: Stop talking
Silence will give everyone time to consider how they can help or join forces to cobble together a solution. Group brainstorming can motivate a reluctant helper.
Step 5: Offer options
- If family members beg off because work and kids eat up weekdays, ask if they can cover Friday nights or the early morning run to adult day care. The sibling who can’t contribute time may be able to contribute money to cover a car service or a once-a-week professional caregiver. Your out-of-town sister and her family can come to stay for a week while you take a vacation.
- If you’re doing all the heavy lifting but family dynamics would make for a stressful meeting — or past efforts were unproductive — invest in professional direction from an eldercare mediator.
Step 6: Make it simple
When everyone is onboard, join a free online scheduler like Lotsa Helping Hands or CareCalendar that lets you specify what you need so others can sign up to provide services. Use the notes feature to update news about your loved one’s condition.
Step 7: Spread the word
After you create your calendar, email the link and any ID or password needed to open it. Send to your family, friends, your loved one’s friends, your neighbors and your loved one’s neighbors. (Longtime friends and neighbors are often glad to spend a few hours a month with someone with whom they have a shared history.)
Step 8: Go away!
Leave written instructions about meals, medicine and phone numbers for a backup home health aide or personal care provider and for your loved one’s medical team.
Learn More: Finding (and paying for) respite care
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