Respite Care

"We are most effective as caregivers when we are centered in our own sense of well-being." - Caryn Summers, R.N.

Being a family caregiver, while a fulfilling role, can consume a great deal of physical, mental and emotional energy. That’s why respite care is so important. It gives caregivers like you an opportunity to create a plan of care for themselves – something that’s often overlooked.

Respite care simply means an interval of rest or relief. Respite care gives you, the family caregiver, an opportunity to take a much-needed break from the daily care you provide for your loved one.

A period of respite may be a few hours or a few days at a time, depending on what’s decided between you and the loved one you’re providing care for. There are many ways you can spend your "time off" during your respite. Here are just a few examples:

  • Go to the movies.
  • Read a book at a nearby park.
  • Go on a short vacation.
  • Have someone else care for your loved one while you retreat to another part of the house and watch TV, read a book or take a nap.
  • Attend a caregiving support group.
  • Sit in the sun.
  • Take a walk.
  • Treat yourself to lunch at a restaurant with a friend.
  • Get a massage/facial/manicure.
  • Play a sport or spend time doing a hobby.

It’s important to have a plan for your own self-care, to enhance the quality of life for both you and your loved one. The more relaxed and fulfilled you feel, the more easily you’ll be able to provide the necessary care. It’s possible that your loved one will appreciate a respite from the normal routine of care as well.

The lack of a conscious plan of self-care can result in caregiver burnout. How do you know if you’re burning out? Some symptoms of caregiver burnout are:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Exhaustion
  • Inability to concentrate or relax
  • Depression
  • Inability to sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of appetite

Caregiver burnout makes the task of caregiving very difficult, if not impossible. It can lead to resentment on the part of the caregiver, and even illness. It’s your responsibility as a caregiver to care for yourself as well as the person you’re caring for.

Respite care is one tool you can use to help yourself avoid caregiver burnout. To begin taking advantage of the benefits of receiving a reprieve from the routine care you provide to your loved one, follow the three steps below:

Step 1-Are you a family caregiver? 

The first step to receiving help is to identify whether you’re a family caregiver. Not everyone considers the care they provide to their loved one as “caregiving.” However, you’re indeed a family caregiver if you provide care to an ill family member such as assisting with areas of personal care, emotional support and companionship, finances and maintaining the household.

Step 2-Have you discussed your needs with your loved one? 

It’s important to communicate your needs and desires with your loved one, the person you’re providing care for. If you believe you might like to pursue respite care services, it’s essential to discuss this ahead of time. In doing so, you may discover that your loved one is very supportive of the idea. You may also find that having such a conversation opens doors for even more communication and intimacy.

Step 3-How do you find out about respite services available to you? 

Respite care can take different forms. In-home respite care usually involves a trained professional (often from a home health agency) who comes into the home to provide necessary care during a period of time when the caregiver is away.

In some communities, there may be a church, volunteer agency or group that provides respite care by a volunteer. The level of training the care provider should have will depend on the level of care needed by your loved one.

Another way to partake in respite care services is through a facility or residence that employs trained health care staff on site. This type of respite would allow your loved one to stay and receive whatever care is needed at such a residence on a short-term basis, as determined by you and your loved one, This kind of service may be available through a local long-term care residence, hospital or assisted living facility.

A less formal way of receiving respite care assistance is by utilizing family and friends who are eager to be helpful. The next time a friend or family member asks you how they can help, consider responding by telling them that giving you a break for a day, an evening or even for a few hours might be the nicest gift they can give you.

We have chapters throughout the U.S. that offer respite services and/or information on respite care resources in your area. Contact your local ALS Association chapter for more information.

If you can’t find services in your area, contact our national office toll free at 1-800-782-4747 for help finding other pertinent respite care resources.

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