It’s a feeling that has become all too familiar for the family caregivers. You love your parent, but the stress of parenting them is starting to take a toll. Maybe your relationship with them has started to become strained, or your caregiver responsibilities are making home life with your own family overwhelming. Caregiver stress and burnout is incredibly common, and if you can relate, you’re not alone. In a recent AARP study, almost two-thirds of family caregivers reported moderate to high levels of stress. And while nearly 40% of family caregivers felt that having respite care would be helpful, only 14% have actually used it.
There are many reasons why family caregivers might be hesitant to try respite care services, but the primary reason usually centers around some type of guilt. It can be hard to let go and accept help when you feel an obligation to take care of your parents. It can feel like you’re passing off your responsibilities, or that your parent will be disappointed or hurt if you bring in help. Let’s face it – taking a break while someone else cares for your parent can sometimes feel selfish.
These feelings are all valid and completely normal. But caregiving for an aging parent is a complex issue and oftentimes, it’s a long-term assignment. It’s important to think beyond the day-to-day and realize that you may have to work through some of those emotions to make the best decisions for your parent and yourself.
Utilizing respite care can be as simple as having a friend or other family member help you out for a few hours now and then. While that can be helpful and a good place to start, many of the significant benefits materialize when you engage a professional caregiver for regular support.
In this article, we’ll discuss four important reasons to consider using professional respite care services and how it can make your role as the family caregiver less stressful and more enjoyable.
1. Your health
If you’ve been a caregiver for even a short amount of time, it’s likely you’ve been given advice to take breaks and practice self-care. And while taking a break is important, the stress of caregiving often takes a much larger toll on physical and mental health than you may realize. In AARP’s study, nearly one-quarter of family caregivers said that they feel their caregiving has made their own health worse. They also reported that it’s made it more difficult to stay healthy. And 40% report high emotional stress from their caregiving situation (ranking it 5 on a scale of 1-5).
Research confirms the positive effects that using respite care has on the health of family caregivers. Data published in the journal Aging & Mental Health showed that caregivers utilizing respite care services (such as adult daycare) had reduced feelings of anger and better control over two key stress hormones. The use of respite care also lessened the impact of both care-related and non-care stressors. And the more they used the service, the less likely the caregiver was to experience health declines.
The CDC said it best: To be an effective caregiver, you must take care of yourself. Your care recipient is counting on you.
2. Prepare for the unexpected
It’s never fun to think about what would happen should your parent have a medical emergency. Perhaps they need to go in for an unexpected procedure, or they injure themselves. Either of those situations might suddenly create the need for many more hours of care than you are able to provide. That’s when having a pre-existing relationship with an in-home care agency can really come in handy. One call and you can have a vetted, trained caregiver to pitch in.
While you may have considered what you would do if your parent were to have some sort of emergency, what many caregivers don’t plan for is what will happen if they are unable to provide care. It could be a family emergency of your own, an unexpected trip, or an injury that requires you to limit your movements. There are a variety of scenarios that could keep you from your normal caregiving duties.
Setting up respite care with an agency now – completing all the paperwork and other administrative tasks – can save you precious time if something were to happen to you or your loved one. It will also be less stressful if your parent has already interacted with a professional caregiver at a time when tensions will already be high.
3. Introduce the idea for later
Engaging respite care services now and introducing a professional caregiver into your parent’s life will not only help in an emergency or for last-minute assistance. It will also help them adjust to the idea should they start needing more help than you can provide. There may come a time when their needs increase enough that you need more permanent help, but you and your loved one want them to remain in their home as long as possible. Moving from respite care to a regular schedule with a caregiver can be an easy transition that will help your parent maintain independence and age in place.
Introducing the idea early and starting slow with a few hours of respite care per week can make a big difference in how your parent responds and adapts. Seniors can be resistant to professional caregiving help because they have preconceived notions about how it would affect them. They may have concerns about getting along with the caregiver or feel it would limit their independence. Giving them a glimpse at how helpful a caregiver can be and what it’s actually like can help ease anxiety, especially when it’s in small doses.
A good rule of thumb is to start slow and start early if you think at any point your parent may need more help than you can give. Respite care is a great way to ease into the process.
4. Your family
Perhaps one of the most overlooked side effects of caregiving is the impact on relationship dynamics across the entire family, most prominently the role reversal that happens between parent and child. Having to parent your parent can cause confusion, resentment, and even some anger for both parties involved. Instead of enjoying a regular parent-child relationship, most of your interactions become about your parent’s care and what they are and aren’t doing properly.
But there are many other relationships that can be affected when taking on a primary caregiver role. Especially if you’re in the “sandwich generation” that is caring for an aging parent in addition to caring for your own family. Findings in the journal Innovation in Aging showed that most caregivers reported relationship strain occurring after taking on the caregiving role, and more than ¾ said caring for a parent put a strain on their marriage. The time you spend away from your family and the stress that caregiving can often bring can make it extremely difficult to maintain healthy relationships. This includes relationships with your parent, your family, and even yourself.
Using respite care can give you back the most precious resource of all, and the one most important to having fulfilling relationships – TIME. Time to spend with family and your spouse, time to share moments and activities with your parents that aren’t related to their care, and time to renew your relationship with yourself. Respite care can also help build new, positive relationships. Adding a professional caregiver to your care team through respite care gives you and your loved one an opportunity to meet caring, well-trained people that can end up becoming part of the family.
As you may have realized, the benefits of adding respite care into your caregiving routine can be immeasurable. It can help restore and build relationships and improve the mental and physical health of you and your loved ones. It can help you prepare for the unexpected and provide a bridge to the next step in your parent’s care journey. And in the end, helping your loved one maintain their independence without sacrificing your relationship with them or your health may be one of the most unselfish things you can do.
Have you ever thought about trying respite care? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!
- Supporting Family Caregivers: How Does Relationship Strain Occur In Caregiving Dyads? A Qualitative Study – Innovation in Aging
- Exploring the Benefits of Respite Services to Family Caregivers: Methodological Issues and Current Findings – Aging & Mental Health
- 80% of Caregivers Report Strain on Their Marriages – Caring.com
- Caregiving in the U.S. – AARP
- Caring for Yourself When Caring for Another – CDC