Human beings weren't created to work nonstop
seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. To be responsible for
someone else twenty-four hours a day. Our bodies and our minds simply
can't maintain that grueling schedule. But in many ways, that's
exactly what many primary caregivers try to do. And it's not good for
them or for the people in their care.
"Respite care" is a term that’s
becoming more common. It means a break for someone who is taking care
of an ill person, a rest for the person primarily responsible for the
well-being of another. In some instances, it's a mother taking care of
her child who is severely disabled; in others, it's an adult child and
a sick parent. In still others, it's one aging parent taking care of
his or her ill spouse.
No matter what the particular circumstances
may be, the basic truth is the same: A primary caregiver needs to take
breaks or soon will burn out, soon will be unable to take care of
anyone, including himself or herself.
These are some points to consider:
● Caregiving is a complicated
experience. It's physically and emotionally draining. There's a
tremendous sense of responsibility coupled with strong feelings of
guilt: I'm not doing enough. I'm not doing this well. Sometimes I
don't want to do this and I wish someone else would.
Without a break, without some type of respite
care, anger may surface, and with it an increased risk of physical and
verbal abuse which should not be tolerated. If abuse is happening
already, it's a clear indication respite care is not only needed, but
● Respite care does not mean a week off
every six months or a free weekend every few months (although those
types of breaks are also very helpful and
healthy). It's several
hours, perhaps once or twice a week, away from the situation with
someone else assuming the role of caregiver.
But often that's more easily said than done.
It can be hard for you, a primary caregiver, to allow someone else to
do your job, even for a short while. Then, too, others—including
family members—may not understand why you need to get away. And the
person in your care may not understand either. He or she may add to
your guilt by apologizing for being such a "burden."
● Don't be surprised if you do feel
guilty when you're taking a break. If you blame yourself because you
need to get away for a time. If you feel bad because in some ways you
might not want to go back.
You need to remember respite care will help
you be a better caregiver. Taking that short step back from the
immediate situation will help you see it better. It will give you a
moment to catch your breath.
● Remember, too, that the break is for
you. Don't fill the time running errands for the person in your care,
going grocery shopping, getting the car fixed, and so on. Do something
Have lunch with a friend. Check out a support
group for others facing the same situation you are. Go bowling. Play a
round of golf. See a movie. Visit the library. Sit in a coffee shop
and read the newspaper. Do what you used to like to do but no longer
have the time for.
● To find someone to help you with
respite care, check with the local Catholic social service agency. Ask
at the parish. Call "Senior Information and Assistance."
And keep in mind that there may be state
money available to cover the cost of respite care even for people
who are not considered low-income.
One final point. Perhaps you are not a
primary caregiver but your spouse or sibling is. Remember, it can be
very difficult for people in that position to say "I need some
time off." They may be waiting for a push from you to begin to
take those vital breaks. Be gentle, be loving, be firm, as you help
them see what a difference respite care can make.
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