What Is Respite Care?
Respite care for the elderly is any service that supports and maintains the primary caregiving relationship by providing temporary care to an aging parent or loved one.
If you’re the primary caregiver for an aging loved one, you may be experiencing some form of stress or burnout. It’s natural for caregivers to become so involved in taking care of someone else that they tend to allow their own needs to get put aside.
This is why respite care is so important for caregivers. As the number of caregivers increases— and there are already an estimated 50 million caregivers in the country today—the number of people suffering from exhaustion, stress, isolation, depression and physical ailments is also on the rise. This is no coincidence. Caregivers need to recognize that they deserve a break from their responsibilities to take care of themselves, too. And taking some time away from caregiving duties will make the person a better caregiver in the long run.
Many caregivers feel guilty at the thought of seeking respite services for their loved ones. A recent survey of caregivers by the National Family Caregivers Association showed that it’s especially difficult for spouse caregivers to acknowledge that their role of caregiver is different and separate from their role as spouse. Caregivers need to acknowledge that caregiving plays a totally separate part in their lives, and that the job of long-term caregiving can be too big for just one person to handle.
Finding Relief in Respite Care
The benefits of respite care are numerous for caregivers. Taking time away from caregiving demands will leave a caregiver refreshed and renewed, allowing them the opportunity to re-energize to be a more effective caregiver. Caregivers deserve time for activities they enjoy, whether it be reading, gardening, taking a walk, taking in a movie or museum, or whatever relaxes and eases the caregiver’s spirit. It’s also important for caregivers to maintain social relationships with friends and other family members to avoid isolation and depression. And caregivers may just need time to take care of personal errands such as seeing their own doctor, or possibly attending a support group with other caregivers.
Ideally caregivers will have regularly scheduled breaks that can be provided by help from friends or family members. However, if that support is not available to the caregiver, there are a variety of respite care options available. Respite care services are offered through community agencies, homecare care companies, direct-hire options like Hallmark Homecare, and residential care facilities. A good place to start in the U.S. is the Eldercare Locator, a free nationwide toll-free service designed to assist older adults and their caregivers to find services in their community. Additional resources are local senior centers, Area Agencies on Aging, and the Family Caregiver Alliance.
It is also ideal for caregivers to create space in their home that is solely for the caregiver, whether that be a reading nook or an extra bedroom. Caregivers are advised to designate time every day, such as while the care receiver is taking a nap or when they first go to bed, that is just for the caregiver.
Before planning respite care, caregivers should talk with their loved one about it, so that he or she understands the benefit to both.
Remember that respite care should not be considered a luxury, but a necessity for the well-being of both the caregivers and their aging loved ones.
Of the many challenges that family caregivers must face on a daily basis, perhaps the greatest—and least addressed—is the mental and emotional health of the caregivers themselves. Self-care is often the last thing that caregivers address, and living with stress, a sense of overwhelm, and bouts of depression seem to come with the job description. But self-care is not something to ignore. Just as a parent is instructed on the airplane to put the oxygen mask on themselves before their child, we must build self-care into our routine, not only for our own well-being, but for the ultimate benefit of those we care for.
An often overlooked resource that can provide both emotional support and useful advise for a caregiver are Caregiver Support Groups. There are many groups that you can access online through social media, but there are also local groups available for an extra level of support. These are community-based gatherings, sometimes run by a professional moderator, but often self-organized, that meet on an ongoing basis. Often, a support group can be a lifesaver, allowing caregivers to talk to others who are experiencing the same challenges, and who can not only empathize, but offer valuable insights and suggestions. While friends are essential, it turns out that other primary caregivers who share your emotional and physical roller coaster ride may offer the best source of support. And even on your most frazzled days, you may be a source of help to them as well.
Caregivers in support groups report these key benefits:
- Feeling less isolated by hearing stories from others in similar situations.
- Having a space to vent and safely voice frustrations.
- Gaining a sense of empowerment and control.
- Learning new coping methods for stress.
- Getting practical advice on caregiving strategies.
- Improving caregiving ability.
Experts believe that these groups are one of the most effective ways for caregivers to cope with the stress that comes with caregiving. Unfortunately, seeking outside help can be a challenge for the typical caregiver, who often feels as though he or she must rely on themselves first and foremost. Family caregivers often isolate themselves—turning down coffee invitations, date nights and workouts at the gym. “There’s no time,” is the typical excuse. But the moment we surrender the notion of being “the one” who must handle it all and we ask for help, we immediately become a less stressed-out caregiver. Those who have chosen to share the burden have found great benefits from the experience.
But to see these benefits, family caregivers first need to find a caregiver support group. That can be difficult if you don’t know where to start your search.
How to find a local caregiver support group
- Local hospitals or community centers almost always have handouts with lists of local support groups. Check there first.
- The online Enter Eldercare Locator (eldercare.gov) is a great resource to find your local Area Agency on Aging for your city. Call them to ask about local support groups, which many include general caregiver support and respite, as well as specific needs groups such as dementia care.
- If you find that there is not a support group in your community, partner with your local senior community organizations to start one up!
Many groups also have options available online if that is your preference.
Every caregiver struggles with the day-to-day challenges of their role. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and isolated and suffering through the experience on your own, try a caregiver support group. It may just make your life easier.
First aid is an important consideration when caring for an elderly person at home. It is important to know that seniors are more vulnerable to accidents and injuries since they often lack strength, flexibility and can have brittle bones. Also, their sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste may have declined, making them more vulnerable to accidents. It is very important that the elderly take care of their skin as well, because they are more susceptible to skin infections and disease due to natural changes in aging skin. These changes make the skin less elastic, thinner and dryer allowing more injures while also being slow to heal.
What to Put in Your First Aid Kit
It is important to keep a well-stocked first aid kit on hand. You can purchase a kit or create one of your own. You can create one using a portable file box that can be found at any office supply store or large discount store. Be sure to keep your first aid kit someplace where it can be located quickly and be sure to give it a regular check up by replacing expired items and updating informational lists.
Creating a list of insurance information, medical contacts, and medications could prove to be a very helpful addition to your first aid kit. We often have trouble trying to remember things in the event of an emergency, which is why adding procedures for specific conditions would also be a great asset to your first aid kit.
In being prepared for emergencies let’s take a look at what a first aid kit should have in it:
- Antiseptic solution or wipes, such as hydrogen peroxide, povidone-iodine or chlorhexidine
- Antibiotic ointment
- Calamine lotion for stings or poison ivy
- Hydrocortisone cream or ointment
- Cotton balls and swabs
- Band-Aids in assorted sizes including knee and elbow sizes
- Latex gloves (these should be worn any time you may be at risk of contact with blood or body fluid of any type)
- Triangular bandages for wrapping injuries and making arm slings
- Thermal patches
- Instant cold pack
- Gauze, tape, and Ace bandages
- Hand sanitizer or soap
- Tweezers, scissors, safety pins and needle
- Eye goggles and sterile eyewash such as a saline solution
- Pain and fever medicines, such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Decongestants to treat nasal congestion
- Anti-nausea medicine to treat motion sickness and other types of nausea
- Anti-diarrhea medicine
- Antacid to treat upset stomach
- Laxative to treat constipation
- First aid manual
- The senior’s medication list with dosage and times taken
- Phone numbers for emergency contact, doctors, pharmacy, and insurance information.
- If needed: blood pressure monitor, oximeter, blood sugar meter and/or AED (Automated External Defibrillator)
- Medical forms such as living will, DNR, or advance directives
When traveling, take the kit with you. You may want to add a blanket, flashlight with extra batteries, medical consent forms, and a medical history form. For specific medical conditions be sure to include any necessary equipment and instructional information. If you elect to keep a separate travel first aid kit, be sure to copy and include all medical information.
Purchasing a First Aid Kit
The American Red Cross and many drugstores sell first aid kits with many of these items. Remember, for the kit to be useful, you need to know how to use it. You may want to take a Red Cross first aid course or at least purchase a first aid manual to learn first aid basics.
For most of us, independence and privacy are an important condition for a comfortable life. We each have our habits and methods of doing things, and life has a rhythm that just “fits” our personalities. But as people age and physical changes occur, we may find ourselves or loved ones dealing with those changes ineffectively. Sooner or later the question starts ringing in our heads, “When should I look for help?”.
But then we think, “Oh, I don’t need help. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.”. Or, “I can’t tell Mom what to do; she’d never listen to me.”. Or, “Dad would never accept help; he’s too proud.”. Or, “It’s not time yet. Let’s wait.”. So, we wait and do what we can ourselves, all the while still wondering, “When should I look for help?”
The good news is we don’t have to guess. There are some common indicators that tell us when it’s time to get some help. We don’t have to wait for a crisis situation to throw everyone into a panic. If fact, the goal should be to avoid the crisis, for everyone’s benefit.
Here are some indicators to consider:
- Physical Condition: Have you or your loved one been diagnosed with a medical condition that affects their daily living? Examples: dressing, grooming, shaving, toileting, eating.
- Personal Care: Are baths/showers being taken regularly? Is there any body odor? Are teeth and hair brushed and washed regularly? Are incontinence products worn if necessary and changed regularly and correctly?
- Driving: Has driving become difficult, uncertain or scary? Have reflexes and decision making slowed? Have new dings, dents or scratches appeared on vehicles?
- Nutrition: Is your or your loved one’s weight stable? Are they eating regularly and nutritiously? Is the refrigerator properly stocked with a variety of foods? Do any of the foods have expired dates? Is there spoiled food in the refrigerator or on the counters?
- Household Tasks: Are household chores being done regularly? Examples: dusting, laundry, vacuuming. Are bed linens changed regularly? Have household chores become frustrating, physically demanding or time consuming?
- Socialization: Does your loved one have moods of loneliness, despair, depression, frustration, irritability or anxiety? Is there fear or anxiety about leaving the house?
- Mental Health: Are there memory lapses? Is there difficulty finding the right words? Is there inconsistency between words and action? Is insecurity or moodiness evident?
- Medication: Are medications being taken regularly and on time? Are medications being refilled on schedule? Does your loved one understand what the medications are being taken for?
- Finances, Mail, Paperwork: Are they having difficulty managing their checkbook, finances, bills or personal affairs? Are there past-due notices arriving? Is mail piling up? Is there a reasonable amount of cash on hand? Are important documents or similar items like purses, wallets and keys being misplaced frequently or for long periods of time? Are they appearing in unusual places?
- Safety, Security and Sanitation: Are appliances being left on such as the stove or coffee pot? Does your loved one fall asleep with cigarettes burning? Is the house temperature getting too hot or too cold? Is the house frequently unlocked? Have they fallen in the past 6 months? Have there been multiple falls? Is there clutter on the floor? Is trash piling up in or around the house? Are toilets functioning properly? Are pets being taken care of?
Family members often see the changes in the way their loved one moves, acts, thinks and responds to situations around them but dismiss them until one of two things happen: (1) family begins to spend so much time helping their loved one that they have little time for their own responsibilities, or (2) the senior experiences a physical or medical crisis. Both of these result in undue stress for the family and their loved one. If you have a concern with even one set of indicators, it’s time to acknowledge it, learn more about what is causing it, and explore what options are available to overcome it. Speak openly, calmly, and honestly about the issue(s) and the type of assistance needed to support your loved one. Frequently, simple changes can make big improvements.
We encourage you to be proactive and avoid a crisis situation that throws everyone into an emotional reaction. Calm, rational transitions are easier on everyone than stressful, rushed ones.
Finally, keep your efforts as informal as possible. Rather than going through the house like an inspector with a checklist, make your observations through normal, casual interaction. Make a mental note when you see things that are of concern. Keep conversation non-threatening and cooperative. Make every effort to respect the senior’s wishes while assisting and supporting them.