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Caregivers Need Care Too

Home care is not just for those who are ill, alone or disabled—it can also provide a respite for the family caregivers who need to take a break and care for themselves.

“When my father had Alzheimer’s, it was up to my 88-year old mother to provide continuous care for him,” said Jan C., a family caregiver in Knoxville, Tennessee. “We hired a caregiver to come in and it allowed my mother to act as if her day was normal, instead of constantly providing care for her spouse.”

Jan’s mother would use the time to spend hours in the kitchen cooking, which she had always enjoyed doing, or to go to the beauty parlor.

“It was a big relief,” Jan said.

Jan's family’s relief was thanks to respite care, which can be short-term in the form of hours or days to give a primary caregiver a break from their care responsibilities of another.

Caregivers need care too. “The benefits provided by respite care to the family are that they feel freedom,” said Jan. “They feel like they can be free to take a trip, even if it’s shorter than normal, and they can take care of their own lives instead of having all of their focus be on their loved one. In the long run, it has a positive affect on their physical and mental well-being.”

Jan points out that the benefit is to both the primary caregiver and their ailing loved one. “Even though a person might not have their usual caregiver, which may be a family member, when that person gets a break they might not be as tired or short-tempered,” she explained. “And the person being cared for might get to tell a story to someone who has not heard it six times a day!”

Jeff W., of Atlanta, Georgia, has found that caregivers might not realize they need to make time for themselves. “It doesn’t take too much research to find out that it can be very stressful to be caregiver,” said Jeff. “A lot of primary caregivers don’t take care of themselves as well as they might if they didn’t have somebody dependent on them.”

One example is some caregivers who provide respite care only one night per month for a woman whose two sons who are usually available to care for her. She has diabetes, congestive heart failure, arthritis, some dementia, and her sons take care of her full-time, but sometimes they cannot be there and then they need a professional caregiver.

Respite care can be for a variety of life situations and families. In another example, a family who receives respite care—the caregivers are hired by a local professional basketball player who has a disabled brother and an elderly grandmother who are both cared for by this man’s mother. The son asked for help out three days a week for eight hours a day. Then, the mother goes shopping, does things for herself, and the caregivers can provide transportation to doctor’s appointments, prepare meals—which have a lot of dietary restrictions—and do light housework for the disabled son and his grandmother.”

The result is invariably a positive one for all parties. “It’s amazing the sacrifices that some people make to take care of their family and friends,” said Jeff. “For some people it’s quite extensive what they put themselves through to care for someone and they feel guilty for bringing somebody else in. Almost universally after we’ve provided the service they really realize what a difference the service makes and how it allows them to be refreshed, to be in a little bit better place to take care of their loved ones—whether it’s for a week or once a month, it still helps.”

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