| Thu, May 22, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

Respite Care for Caregivers: Give Yourself a Break!

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

caregiver burnout

By Dr. Jamie Huysman, Vice President, UnitedHealthcare

Remember the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”? When applied to caregiving, it could make Jack (or Jackie) more than dull. It may make him a burnt-out, emotionally-overwhelmed mess!

Respite care allows caregivers to leave their loved ones with a trusted person, place or program. The word “respite” means a period of rest or relief. So the purpose of respite care is to give caregivers time away from their duties along with an opportunity to refresh and renew.

Many caregivers are reluctant to take breaks for themselves, perhaps believing that they “can’t” or “shouldn’t.” The specific reasons may vary, but most may be attributed in one way or another to fear or guilt.

Is It Fear or FEAR?

There may be nothing that strikes more fear in a caregiver’s heart than the words “respite care.” This fear is much like that of a new mother who is entrusting her child to the care of another for the first time. Caregivers, like new moms, must learn to let go and trust their own wisdom and decisions.

The acronym FEAR stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” This describes the kind of fear that arises in our minds based on internal thoughts or beliefs. It has no substance, and yet this fear may create a great deal of worry, apprehension and anxiety. These feelings in turn may affect behavior.

As a caregiver, for example, you may believe that no one else can properly care for your loved one, so you refuse to try respite care. If you’ve never allowed anyone else to provide care, how could you know it wouldn’t be done properly? Compare this self-generated fear with the fear of, let’s say, meeting a bear on a hiking trail. Now that is real fear due to an actual event!

If you are a caregiver and find yourself responding to opportunities for rest and self-renewal with the words “I can’t,” you might want to ask yourself why—and really listen to the answer.

 Is Guilt Getting In Your Way?

“Me time” is not selfish. It helps support self-care and self-esteem. It’s natural to want and need periods of respite in the course of daily life—especially when daily life includes caregiving.

For caregivers, regular periods of respite may be the best antidote for the exhaustion and burnout that many experience. By proactively “taking their oxygen first,” caregivers help maintain physical and emotional health. And staying healthy can enhance a caregiver’s ability to effectively carry out their duties.

Caregivers who make their own health a priority may learn that it’s okay to say “no” sometimes, and also to say “yes” to outside help. Thoughtful boundaries are part of building and maintaining strong and healthy relationships, including a caregiver’s relationship with their loved one. Just as important, care recipients may get an increased sense of safety, trust and stability from knowing that their caregivers are taking care of themselves, too.

A caregiver who says or thinks “I shouldn’t” when presented with an offer of help or a chance to take some time off is likely reacting to a sense of guilt. “Leaving” a loved one who is unwell and needs care to do something relaxing or pleasurable may seem self-centered and insensitive. But it may be just the opposite. A caregiver who foregoes respite care only to become physically and emotionally depleted helps no one—least of all, their loved one.

Types of Respite Care

Respite care comes in all shapes and sizes to meet the caregiver’s and care recipient’s needs. One option is to have a set schedule for family members to share caregiving duties and to support each other. You may also bring a volunteer, a paid companion or skilled health assistance into the home to be with your loved one. Out-of-the-house opportunities include adult day programs, residential programs and other community resources. Check to see what’s available in your local area, including caregiver support groups, classes and other resources.

If you are a caregiver, it’s vital that you attend to yourself and your life. So give yourself a break! Caregiving is what you do; it’s not who you are.

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.


Caregiver Action Network: Find caregiver information, peer support and other resources.

Paying for Respite Care: Get information about resources to help pay for respite care.

Medicare Hospice Benefits: Learn what assistance Medicare provides for hospice care.

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