The Enormous Benefits of Respite for Caregivers

There are many resources available to help family caregivers take time off

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- Posted on Feb 19, 2019

Shot of a young woman relaxing with coffee and a book at home.

Miriam Rose, M.Ed., is a Senior Research Analyst II and the Research Grants Administrator at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

As a caregiver to an older loved one, it is natural to want to give “our all” to that person, regardless of our own needs. It is no secret that doing so can easily stretch us thin. This is especially true if we are handling full-time jobs or are part of the “sandwich generation,” meaning that we have both children and older loved ones to look after. Simply keeping up with our daily errands and chores, as well as personal needs, can quickly become a challenge. A great place to turn for help is the surprising variety of creative respite options.

Respite accounts for 15% of all assistance requests from family caregivers, according to a study by the Family Caregiver Alliance. The reliance on respite for so many caregivers makes sense, as most of us will be involved in caring for an older person in our lives at some juncture. Respite comes with a number of highly valuable benefits, both for the caregiver and the person receiving care.

The Lifespan Respite Care Act of 2006 defines respite as “planned or emergency care provided to a child or adult with a special need in order to provide temporary relief to the family caregiver of that child or adult.” The whole point is to give yourself a brief bit of down time from providing care so that you may attend to your own needs. Some other countries actually use the term “short break” in place of “respite.” There are many faces of respite care. You may take a much-needed break when your loved one participates in an adult day program in your local area, or spends time in a residential facility. You could also take a breather by handing over certain tasks to a paid care worker who offers in-home assistance. Informal networks of volunteers, faith-based groups or family caregiver cooperatives also provide an array of respite services. 

Although evidence suggests that respite can be beneficial and enjoyable for caregivers and their loved ones, some who provide care to an older adult do not identify as caregivers, or do not see themselves as needing or deserving of a break (National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) in collaboration with the Partnership for Caring. (2001). Toward a national caregiving agenda: Empowering family caregivers in America). Even many of those who do describe themselves as caregivers may wait to seek respite until late in the caregiving process or until a crisis occurs.

However, use of respite early in your caregiving journey can help to preserve your health and well-being while reducing or delaying burnout and feelings of exhaustion and isolation due to the chronic stresses of caregiving (ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center. (2018). Annotated bibliography of respite and crisis care studies. (4th ed.). In some cases, respite may even reduce or delay the need for your loved one to be placed in a nursing home or other care facility (Montgomery, R. J. V. (1988). Respite care: Lessons from a controlled design study. Health Care Financing Review, 1988 (Suppl.), 133-138.). If you plan for respite in advance, and on a regular basis, it can also help you make the most of your time off while preparing your loved one for the change to their standard care routine.

The ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center reminds us that “asking for help is a sign of strength.” ARCH offers a National Respite Locator to assist caregivers and professionals in finding respite services nearby. ARCH lists many other free resources on its website, such as “ABCs of Respite: A Consumer Guide for Family Caregivers” and “Nine Steps to Respite,” which are fact sheets for family caregivers specific to various caregiving situations. The following organizations  also have excellent respite resources:

Keep in mind that respite care is not only hugely important to your own health and well-being, but it also goes a long way in enabling you to be a more effective caregiver to your loved one!

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