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.
Enjoying the warm summer temperatures doesn’t have to be a distant memory for elders and caregivers. Finding an interesting activity that is suitable for a senior’s abilities may take some creativity and planning, but it is well worth switching up the routine and getting out of the house.
The Benefits of Getting Outside
A main advantage of heading outdoors, even for a short period of time, is being able to soak up some sunlight. Sun exposure generates vitamin D, which is necessary for a healthy brain, bones and muscles. Getting out also enables elders to socialize with new people and be stimulated by new experiences and environments.
Ideas for Outdoor Activities
When selecting activities to do with your loved one, focus on hobbies and interests that they used to enjoy. What is something they always wanted to try? Don’t be afraid to ask what they miss doing or what they’d like to revisit. Have a couple of suggestions prepared to choose from and head outside to enjoy the day together.
Catch a sporting event. Attending a grandchild’s soccer game or a professional baseball game can be an action-packed way for your loved one to reconnect with a favorite pastime.
Fish for fun. You can cast a rod from a dock, pier, or other location, even if someone has mobility problems or uses a wheelchair. Check your state’s or province’s tourism websites to see if they provide listings of accessible fishing locations.
Be a tourist. If you live in a city, take an open-air bus or trolley tour to see the local sights. Another option could be a boat tour, depending on what type of equipment an elder needs to take with them. A Sunday drive around town can also allow a senior to check out happenings in the community that interest them. This could be a neighborhood rummage sale, farmers market, community event or even just blooming flowers and trees.
Take a dip. If a senior is willing and able, spending some time in a pool is an excellent way for them to incorporate some physical activity into their routine that seems more like relaxing than a workout.
Stroll around. If a walk is possible, start slow and work up to longer outings. Either keep the first few walks short or bring along a walker or wheelchair in case your loved one gets tired and needs to rest along the way or requires help getting back.
Be an animal lover. This could be as simple as encouraging a loved one to sit outside and enjoy the sights and sounds or could mean an outing to the zoo or local dog park. There are plenty of options for seniors who enjoy animals to get outside and either interact with or observe nature.
Picnic outdoors. Picnics are another flexible activity that you can plan at a park, in your own backyard, or on the surrounding grounds of a long-term care facility. At the park, seniors can watch children run around and enjoy the buzz of outdoor activity. Make sure to locate an area with comfortable seating and plenty of shade in advance or remember to bring your own.
Go out for a treat. Most seniors have a favorite place to eat that picks their spirits right up. Instead of limiting this indulgence to special occasions or the post-doctor’s appointment routine, make an outing out of it “just because.” This could consist of a coffee and pastry from a favorite breakfast spot, or a lunch special from the diner around the corner. If the weather is nice, enjoy your goodies at a patio table.
Older bodies don’t adjust to temperature changes or perceive thirst as well as younger ones. With each of these activities, be sure to watch your loved one for signs of fatigue, thirst, sunburn, and overheating that could signal it’s time to leave, perhaps with a promise to return at another time.
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.