Serving as a caregiver for a loved one can be both exhausting and rewarding. Over time, though, the stress and demands of this work can lead to caregiver burnout, which impacts both the caregiver and the person receiving care.
One way to stave off burnout and exhaustion is to create a respite caregiver plan. Planning ahead for respite care is an important part of ensuring that you don't lose sight of your own health and needs while you care for others.
What Is Respite Care?
Respite care is any form of short-term relief for primary caregivers, according to the National Institute on Aging. A respite caregiver can offer assistance to people who provide care for their loved ones, whether they need a few hours to themselves or several weeks off to tend to other needs.
Research has shown that respite care provides important support for caregivers as they navigate the shifting and often complicated responsibilities of caring for a family member. It's also been shown to have a positive impact on care recipients. When caregivers for people with dementia utilize respite care, for example, it can "extend the length of time people with dementia can remain living in the community with family support," according to the journal Health and Social Care.
By scheduling time for respite care, caregivers can ensure that they will have the time they need to care for themselves, recharge and stay energized, enabling them to provide better care.
Respite Care Comes in Many Forms
Respite care can be as simple as asking another family member or a friend to step in for an afternoon, or it might involve hiring a home-care professional to care for your loved one or working with an agency that trains volunteers to serve as home companions. Respite care can also include stays out of the home at an adult day care or community center, or an overnight stay at a hospital or residential care facility.
Different types of situations call for different types of respite care. For example, if you need a morning to run errands and attend appointments, you could hire an in-home caregiver or bring your loved one to an adult day care center. On the other hand, if you need an extended leave from your caregiving duties to travel, you might choose an assisted living facility where your loved one can stay for a longer period.
Ultimately, the decision comes down to your needs, preferences and budget. It can be hard to ask for respite care when you need it, but taking care of yourself is just as important as caring for your loved one, and it's crucial for caregivers to keep themselves healthy to avoid caregiver burnout.
Creating a Respite Care Plan
Research your options for respite caregivers, both within your circle of family and friends, and through services offered by professional organizations.
You can start to narrow down your search by determining the length and frequency of care needed. For example, are you looking for regularly scheduled respite care for a few hours once a week, or do you need a long-term solution so you can take a few weeks off?
You'll also want to consider whether you and the care recipient would prefer in-home or out-of-home care.
In-Home vs. Out-of-Home Respite Care
For care recipients without transportation or with limited mobility, in-home care can be a good first choice. In-home care also allows care recipients to stay in a familiar and comfortable environment, which is preferable for some people.
You can seek out in-home care provided by volunteers through organizations like local nonprofits or church groups, or you could ask friends or family for assistance. You could also hire paid professional caregivers or find volunteers through federally funded initiatives, such as the Senior Companion Program.
For care recipients interested in more social interaction and greater activity, out-of-home care can offer opportunities to pursue those goals. Keep in mind that receiving care at an out-of-home facility will likely require coordinating transportation. In addition, not everyone is comfortable with receiving care outside of their home.
Finding and Vetting Respite Providers
Before seeking out respite care, make a list of your regular caregiving duties. Consider questions like whether the care recipient needs help with using the bathroom, moving around or remembering to take medications. Creating a detailed schedule of what a typical day of caregiving looks like for you can help you ensure that your respite caregiver is equipped to complete the tasks required.
The National Respite Network provides a detailed list of questions to ask prospective respite providers, whether you're planning to hire someone on your own or seeking support through an agency.
Visit out-of-home facilities to make sure you're comfortable with the environment and staff there before you commit to engaging their services. The National Adult Day Services Association offers tips on how to choose a facility, along with a checklist to bring on site visits that includes key questions about the facility and its credentials.
Paying for Respite Care
Respite care isn't covered by most health insurance plans, Medicare or Medicaid. If your loved one has long-term care insurance, it may cover respite care. If you're concerned about paying for respite care, you could look into funding options through state and local programs.
Share Your Plan With Your Inner Circle
It's important to discuss your plan in depth with all involved family members and stakeholders so there's no confusion down the road. Be clear about your schedule and any plans you have to take time off. If another family member or friend plans to step in to provide respite care in your absence, make sure you're aligned on the schedule and expectations.
Care for the Caregiver
We can't take care of others if we aren't also taking care of ourselves. Respite care is an integral part of any caregiving plan, and it can help you avoid caregiver burnout. By meeting your own needs, you can better position yourself to put your best foot forward as a caregiver for your loved one.