Respite Care: The Act of Looking Back

This is a guest post from Michelle Seitzer. 

Respite is defined by Merriam-Webster as follows:

1: a period of temporary delay

2: an interval of rest or relief

The word’s first known use dates way back to the 13th century and comes from the Latin “respectus” – the act of looking back.

The act of looking back…

As a caregiver – of any age or stage – the act of looking back is not something you often get a chance to do, right?

Now the act of looking ahead – hoping for relief of some kind, hoping for more patience, hoping for strength to get through the challenges that are sure to come – that is something you are probably doing on a daily basis.

And, depending on your caregiving situation, the act of looking ahead may even be something in the back of your mind as you meet the immediate needs of the present.

Caregiving is not for the faint of heart, which is why respite is so very important.

Respite refreshes, rejuvenates, and revives the caregiver, and yet so few caregivers take advantage of this crucial lifeline. Unfortunately, feelings of guilt or fear (“I should be able to handle this on my own” or “I can’t leave him alone with anyone else”) get in the way. Sometimes, it’s just plain logistics (cost of care, juggling schedules, and availability of/access to respite services) that pushes the possibility of respite aside.

Whatever the reason, do your best to overcome these obstacles and schedule a much-need breather, a pause from your frenetic day, an opportunity to think your own thoughts or maybe just eat lunch uninterrupted. You will notice a difference, and it’s likely that your care recipient will, too.

Start small, giving yourself an hour a week to unburden yourself. You probably don’t have to move mountains to get this hour in. Maybe there is a point in the day when your loved one watches her favorite TV show, or takes a nap. That’s an opening that you must fill with “me time.”

If you’re in an intensive caregiving situation, these breaks will help, but you will eventually need more rest/relief, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I repeat: there is nothing wrong with needing time for you! Push the guilt aside, and recognize that the seemingly selfish act of taking “me time” is mutually beneficial to your caregiving relationship.

Caregivers occasionally need relief and assistance if a major/minor surgery is required, or for routine doctor’s appointments. Keep your doctor’s appointments, and don’t delay surgery – schedule the short-term care you need for your loved one – but don’t count this as all the respite you need. Maintaining your physical health is important, but you also need time to do what YOU want to do – even if that means doing absolutely nothing.

The ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center is an excellent place for caregivers to become better educated about respite services in general, and to search for care options in your community. Visit the site at: http://www.archrespite.org/home.

You’ll also find respite care/short-term stays on the roster of services offered by senior living communities these days. Start the search for these communities at www.seniorsforliving.com.

Engage in the “act of looking back” more often. Take time to reflect on who you are outside of your role as a caregiver, and make respite a priority. You’ll be a better caregiver – and a happier, healthier you – for it.

Author bio:

Before committing to life as a full-time freelance writer, Michelle spent 10 years in the senior living and advocacy world, serving in various roles at assisted living communities throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, and leading the charge for Alzheimer’s as a public policy coordinator for the Pennsylvania chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association. She has blogged for SeniorsforLiving.com since November 2008 and currently resides in York, Pennsylvania, with her teacher husband and two Boston Terriers. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


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