Respite Care Lets Family Caregivers Take a Vacation

Senior man on golf course sitting in his golf cart talking on his mobile device.

Does this sound familiar? Your coworker comes back after two weeks in a tropical paradise. She’s tan, relaxed and passing around photos of herself in her swimsuit on a catamaran, enjoying an umbrella drink at a luau and swimming with sea turtles. You think to yourself that the way you spent your week off—helping your elderly mom move to a retirement apartment—wasn’t quite so glamorous! And you don’t feel very rested, that’s for sure!

It’s a well-known fact that family caregivers who are also employed often spend most of their vacation time tending to the needs of their loved ones. They use up their days off day by day as they take elderly loved ones to the doctor, supervise their rehabilitation appointments, take them shopping, drive them to activities at the senior center, and help keep their home safe and in order.

If their elderly loved one lives with them, chances are the caregiver can’t leave Mom or Dad unsupervised. And maybe the caregiver is part of the Sandwich Generation, caring for aging parents and underage children alike. Or maybe they live at a distance from their senior parents, and take their vacation time traveling to Mom or Dad’s community, fitting a year’s worth of assistance and support into that week or two.

Mental health experts tell us that taking a vacation is very important! It is a time for renewal and for recharging our emotional batteries. The change of scene and change of pace help us avoid burnout at our job, and give us a break from the usual stresses we face each day. Savvy employers know this, and encourage their employees to take the time off. Yet surveys show, many Americans fail to take all the vacation time to which they are entitled. And caregivers, even if they take all their leave, aren’t spending it in relaxing, spirit-renewing activities.

Here are the top reasons caregivers cite for not taking a vacation:

“Money is tight.” Studies show caregivers spend an average of $5000 per year on their loved one’s care, and that leaves them with a lot less discretionary income. But travel need not be prohibitively expensive. Recreation departments and community colleges may offer economy tours. Senior travelers are eligible for special discounts and travel packages. Or consider a "staycation," checking out museums and other points of interest in your area, perhaps spending a weekend at a local spa, resort or Airbnb rental. If you’re a camping fan, look online to find state parks or other scenic locales. And don’t be afraid to ask around: Out-of-town friends and family members who know how much you do for your loved one might be happy to open their home to you, or they may have an available vacation home or timeshare.

“I feel guilty leaving my loved one at home.” Remind yourself (and perhaps also your loved one, if some of the guilt you’re feeling is coming from that direction) that vacationing has demonstrable health benefits. A few years ago, University of Pittsburgh and State University of New York at Oswego researchers reported that people who take regular vacations have a substantially lower risk of heart disease and heart attack. The change of scenery and routine decrease stress and depression, improve sleep, increase mental sharpness and even give a boost to our immune system. Remember: Taking care of your own health helps you be a better caregiver for your loved one.

“Let’s send Ed a picture so he’ll know you’re doing just fine!”

“There’s no one to take care of my loved one while I’m away!” This is a time to take stock of your family’s options. Do other relatives live in the area? Ask them to stay with your loved one or have your loved one stay with them while you are gone. If this is not an option, check into respite care through local nursing homes and other senior living communities. And this is a great time to check out professional in-home care, if you haven’t already discovered the many benefits of this service. A professional in-home caregiver can provide companionship, assistance with the activities of daily living, housekeeping and meal preparation, medication supervision, and transportation to places your loved one likes to go. To increase your peace of mind and allow you to totally relax on your vacation, the caregiver can provide you with regular reports. If in-home care seems beyond your budget, this is a good time to hold a family meeting and see if others can share the cost.

“I use all my vacation time providing care for my loved one! There’s none left for travel.” This is another way in-home care can support working caregivers. Through the year, let the caregiver take over some of those tasks that you usually have to do during your normal working hours, which quickly deplete your vacation days—like taking your loved one to healthcare appointments, picking up prescriptions, preparing nutritious meals, and providing supervision and companionship if your loved one has memory loss. And here’s a huge plus for you and your employer alike: Having a caregiver provides the peace of mind that lets you be a more productive, focused employee.

“My elder loved ones live at a distance. I need to spend all my vacation time visiting them.” More and more Americans are finding themselves in this situation. Our mobile society means that often, adult children are providing care from a distance. It’s not uncommon for a married couple to be caring for both spouses’ senior parents—and if one or both of the older couples are divorced, that could mean four separate destinations to cover over the year! One solution is to travel with senior loved ones if they can do so. Rent a comfortable lakefront cottage or take a cruise. If you can, hire in-home care through the year to take up the slack on some of those maintenance tasks that usually eat up your time during a visit. And give yourself permission to “branch out” for part of the trip. You already paid the airfare or made the long drive; after visiting the folks, take a few bonus days to yourself at a pleasant destination nearby.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2016.

There’s one kind of “getaway” that family caregivers want to avoid! Wandering is a common occurrence when a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Read on to the next article to find tips for understanding and preventing this problem.