2012: Care for the family caregiver – the importance of respite

Many of us are taking on roles we never imagined when we were younger. We’re watching our once-strong and capable mothers, fathers or spouses become less able to care for themselves.

As they begin to fail, they must depend on us for assistance. At the same time, many of us still have children at home, full-time jobs, and other responsibilities.

Family caregivers in the United States total 34 million. In nearly four of every ten households, at least one family member is a caregiver. Family caregivers provide assistance to loved ones who cannot fully take care of themselves. 

In some cases it’s due to a temporary disability or injury, and in others, a progressive/terminal illness is the reason. Family caregivers go to great lengths to look after their loved ones, but in most cases, they look after themselves last, often to their detriment. Surprisingly, the primary reason many seniors are moved from the comfort of their own home into a care facility is the decline in health of the family caregiver, not the patient.

Undertaking the role of a caregiver usually means accepting a great deal of additional responsibility. Many family caregivers take minimal time to care for themselves, and often do not exercise, rest or eat regular meals. Exhaustion can compromise the body’s immune system and lead to illness. Family caregivers often don’t rest when they are ill, and they postpone their own health care needs such as doctor appointments or flu shots.

Between 40 and 70 percent of family caregivers experience symptoms of depression. It is important to eat well, get enough sleep, and see your doctor regularly. Respite allows you to take time for yourself in order to stay healthy, keep your loved ones healthy, and avoid burnout.

Anyone who has taken on the family caregiver role can benefit from respite. Schedule your respite time when you can attend to your needs and pursue your interests. Exercise, shop, read, or enjoy yourself with others by engaging in whatever activities you find most fulfilling and relaxing. Consider connecting with other family caregivers.

Communicating with people who share your challenges can be a relief. Contact your local senior center or hospital to learn about caregiver support groups in your area, or find an online caregiver support group. As with other priorities in your life, the responsibility of caring for yourself comes down to you. Even small steps toward positive change can reap significant benefits for you and your loved ones.

For more information, contact your local ResCare HomeCare branch office at 634-5448 or visit our website www.rescarehomecare.com.

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