Tuesday, June 7, 2011

‘The Single Most Important Step’ for Family Caregivers

During a webinar yesterday on making the most of respite care, the speaker proclaimed that taking time off from caring for a loved one is “the single most important step family caregivers can take.” And yet, so many caregivers – particularly spouses and parents of disabled children – do not take time off to do something they enjoy.

Part of that is cultural. According to speaker Dale Lund, a professor of sociology at Cal State University San Bernardino who’s conducted caregiver research since 1983, research shows we as a society accept that widowhood is among the most demanding experiences in life, while caregiving is not. And yet the two share a lot of traits in common, including depression, isolation, financial stress and sense of loss.

As such, caregivers of the disabled often feel guilty if they take time for themselves or try activities that do not involve everyone in the family. And those who do seek respite care often do not otpimally use the time off, generating even more stress!

According to Dr. Lund, here are some ways caregivers can effectively use respite care, whether it’s being relieved for a couple of hours at home or by enrolling their loved on in adult day care programs such as those offered by our organization. (We were founded by George and Joy Glenner to specifically provide respite care for caregivers of dementia patients.)

1. Begin using respite care early in the “caregiving career.” Caregivers with jobs outside the home are more likely to be satisifed with respite care because they use it to work. However, those who stay at home to be full-time caregivers do not see their roles as "work" and therefore are more resistant to outside help.  The earlier respite care is arranged, the better it is for everyone in the family.

2. Use respite care regularly. Research indicates scheduling outside care twice weekly is a good starting point. It can be for just a couple of hours or a couple of days. What’s important is that it’s consistently used.

3. Use respite care in sufficient amounts. Start with two-hour blocks to acclimate and plan activities that can be done during that amount of time. It’s important these be activities that bring the caregiver enjoyment – whether it’s leisurely grocery shopping or taking a much-needed nap. Increase the “dosage” as caregiving responsibilities evolve.

4. Use respite care alongside other services. Consider using some of that spare time to become better educated in caregiving through classes, support groups and counseling. Or, visit the gym or a park or museum. Don't just sit in front of the television, worrying about your loved one.

5. Be careful about volunteering. Caregivers by nature are giving people, and some friends and family members may take advantage of that generosity by requesting help when they know the caregiver is free. For some, volunteering provides a great deal of satisfaction; however, if helping out feels burdensome, let someone else with a different lifestyle and more free time take on those tasks.

Dr. Lund recommends caregivers set weekly goals for how they will spend their respite time and then check at the end of the week to see if those goals were accomplished. Do you feel more rested? Did you catch up on all of your errands that had been weighing on you? Did you get to read a good book or take in a movie you’ve wanted to see? If your respite time was done well, the answer to all of these questions will be a big, “YES!”

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