reviewing care plan with senior and family reviewing care plan with senior and family

Stressed Out Caring for an Aging Loved One? Respite Care to the Rescue!

In physics as in life, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Modern medicine is making extended lifespans a growing reality. With more people living longer, there is an expanding pool of older adults who need help as they age. At the same time, the U.S. birth rate has fallen by 20% since 2007, which further decreases the ratio of those who are able to help care for our elderly population. As a result, more spouses and adult children, for example, are serving as family caregivers for older loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other health conditions. Millions of Americans find themselves toiling away at what has been called “the unexpected career of caregiving.” The number of people needing care is projected to grow in the foreseeable future. The demands of caregiving are many, and the risk of burnout or illness over time from the physical, mental and emotional toll is real. Which is why respite care can be a lifesaver for both the giver of care, and the recipient.

What Is Respite Care?

Caring for a loved one with chronic conditions due to aging, or who is recuperating from an illness or injury, is a big job. Family caregivers often report being stressed and overwhelmed. Most people who take on these duties have lives of their own, and many are working full time and still raising children. For most, it starts out small with an occasional task here and there, and before they know it, they are immersed in responding to their loved one’s needs for everything from daily living tasks to medications to getting them to and from appointments. Tracking prescriptions, including dosages and time intervals, is challenging all by itself. Then there is recognizing and adapting to the physical, psychological, social and emotional changes that aging presents.

Respite care is short-term relief for primary family caregivers arranged for just a couple of hours to several days or weeks. The purpose is to provide a temporary alternative caregiver—a break from the pressure of always having to be vigilant. Family caregivers are apt to push themselves to their limits and beyond because they feel obligated to be faithful spouses or children or siblings. They may be reluctant to ask for help because they feel it would be admitting they somehow failed the loved one in their care. They may not have other family members available to pitch in or they may not be able to afford professional help. However, doing it all alone is asking for trouble, especially when the family caregiver has health issues of their own.

Helping Hands Make the Work Lighter

It is vital that family caregivers understand that everyone needs help sometimes and that asking for assistance shows strength, not weakness. Sometimes the best thing a caregiver can do is to get others involved to help ease the load. Getting respite from daily responsibilities can afford the caregiver time to rest, recharge and attend to things they’ve been putting off, while the loved one who needs assistance still gets all of their needs met by others. Other family members, friends, home health aides, adult daycare or long-term care facilities can be respite care helping hands. Indeed, they can be part of a caregiving team, all on the same page with everything affecting the senior’s condition and medical care plan. Team members can spell the primary family caregiver for hours, days or more at a time depending on personal schedule needs and changes in the senior’s health care profile.

Respite Care Options

Right at Home offers a range of options from companionship and homemaking assistance to home health aides who tend to personal care needs such as bathing, dressing, toileting and mobility assistance. Aides can also assist the primary family caregiver with laundry, shopping and preparing meals. Some agencies also provide nursing services to help with medication administration, simple wound care/dressing changes, and other support.

Adult day centers can offer socialization and support for persons dealing with the effects of aging by having them engage in supervised group activities such as music and art programs. Transportation and meals are often provided.

Long-term care communities may offer the option to stay anywhere from overnight to a few days or weeks. This can allow family caregivers to take an extended break, or even a vacation while their loved one stays in a supervised, safe environment.

Preparation and Knowledge Equals Trust and Peace of Mind

Because family caregivers are strongly attached to the person in their charge, they can be resistant to the idea of handing off their loved one to others, especially strangers. Caution is well advised. Experts recommend a background check and thorough interview to get all questions answered. What does respite care cost? What liability will the primary family caregiver take on, or will the care provider handle all taxes and insurance for them? How is the professional caregiver trained, and who oversees the care they provide? Even facilities should be vetted and hard questions asked about the staff-to-patient ratio, emergency health contingency plans, and communicating changes with family members.

For respite care to work to everyone’s satisfaction, the family caregiver being relieved needs to feel secure in the quality of care being provided, so they have the peace of mind needed to truly rejuvenate. Similarly, respite care providers need to feel their hands are not tied as they go about doing their job. And, the senior receiving the care needs to feel comfortable with any new caregivers and surroundings. If the right fit is found, then it becomes a matter of trusting it and making sure the senior’s needs are being met. If all the boxes are checked, then the best thing the family caregiver can do is enjoy some downtime and relax in between caregiving stints.

Give the Gift of Care®

Know someone who could use a break or an opportunity to go holiday shopping or to take a weekend vacation? Share this article with them, and consider offering to take a turn providing relief. For those who want to find a professional in-home care agency to be part of the solution, Right at Home offers a FREE in-home care assessment so all questions can be answered. Use our office locator to find the location nearest you.

Interested in receiving senior care information, advice and support? Sign up for our FREE monthly Caring Right at Home e-newsletter today!

Author Leo Adam Biga

Leo Adam Biga is a veteran freelance journalist and author who writes stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. The Omaha native and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate is the author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” Follow his work at

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