If you’re responsible for the care of your elderly family member, it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed and exhausted—no matter how much you love them.
According to the National Institute on Aging, nearly 15 million Americans provide unpaid care to an older adult, and many of those caregivers have reported having physical and emotional health problems due to constant demands with no breaks. Although you may feel guilty stepping away and allowing someone else to help, overlooking your own needs isn’t doing any favors for your loved one.
“It’s absolutely necessary for caregivers to take a break from the situation, and then come back with a clear mind,” said Leah Russell, executive director at Reflections at Garden Place, a memory care facility in Columbia, Illinois. While her facility is home to mostly full-time residents, short-term or “respite” stays are available from one night to 30 days to allow primary caregivers to rest.
“It’s healthy for family members to put the responsibility of caregiving on someone else for a while,” she said. “Not only to prevent emotional and mental burnout but to prevent resentment within the family.”
As a caregiver, you may be constantly thinking, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” but it’s important to know help is available. You owe it to yourself to speak to a respite care provider.
What should I know about respite care?
Respite care is simply another term for “short-term relief,” and it’s available to any adult with developmental, mental and physical needs that require constant supervision. It can be beneficial for primary caregivers who are temporarily unable to provide care due to work commitments, child care issues, or simply because they need a break.
As the sole caretaker of your loved one, it may be scary to allow someone else to take over your role, but Tammy Ennor, quality compliance director at Family Hospice in Belleville, Illinois, said the transition is easier when family members know what to expect. She suggests asking the following questions when speaking with respite care providers.
Where should my loved one’s respite care take place?
Respite care is available in a variety of settings and should be chosen based on the best scenario for the patient’s medical condition and the caregiver’s needs. For instance:
- Adult day care centers work well for family members who work during the day, and for patients who enjoy socializing with other seniors.
- Assisted living facilities may offer short-term overnight stays when a caregiver would like to take a weekend trip. Respite care guests often enjoy the same activities that residents do.
- A memory care facility’s staff is trained in addressing the needs of dementia patients, so it’s the best place for a respite stay when a senior has Alzheimer’s.
- A patient with medical needs who is bedridden may receive the best attention in a hospital’s respite care.
- A patient who is most comfortable at home may prefer to receive respite care in their familiar surroundings.
How will I pay for respite care?
Some providers only accept private pay while some accept Medicare, Medicaid or long-term insurance plans, so this is one of the first questions to ask when speaking to a respite provider. If your loved one is in hospice, Medicare will pay for up to five consecutive days of inpatient care at a Medicare-approved nursing home or hospital, or in a hospice facility. Medicaid coverage varies from state to state, with waivers providing the largest federal source of funding assistance for respite. Information on state funding for respite services can be found through the National Respite Network.
How long should I be away?
The length of time you spend away will vary depending on your ability to pay for services, and can range from hours to days. You may just need to run errands or attend a doctor appointment for yourself, or you may plan a short vacation with friends. A provider will assess your needs and give you advice regarding the length of your loved one’s stay. The important thing to know is that this break is just as good for them as it is for you, so don’t feel like you have to hurry back.
What services will be provided while I’m gone?
Respite providers usually deliver the same types of care a primary caregiver does, including:
- Companionship and supervision
- Help with activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing and eating
- Basic medical care including medication assistance and wound care
- Meal preparation or delivery
- Household tasks such as light cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping
- Transportation if needed for medical appointments or errands
- Activities to keep them entertained
Who will be taking care of my elderly family member?
This is always a big concern when leaving a loved one with someone you don’t know. For total peace of mind, Ennor said it’s important to ask the following questions regarding respite employees:
- What type of education, training and licensing do they have?
- Have all employees undergone background checks and thoroughly evaluated?
- Can staff members administer medications?
- What is the staff-to-resident ratio for respite care patients?
- Is nursing care available 24 hours a day?
- Is there a list of references to speak with other families who have used these services?
What can I expect during COVID-19?
Regulations regarding the pandemic in long-term care facilities will also affect respite residents. You will need to ask if visits are allowed during the stay, and whether or not your loved one will have to quarantine (causing them to stay longer than planned) if they’re exposed to the virus. You should also ask how this would affect the cost of the stay.
Give yourself a break with respite care
You don’t have to feel guilty about taking some much needed rest. In fact, it’s what your loved one would want you to do. Find a respite care provider near you and start thinking about ways to enjoy your time away.