Approximately 1 out of every 6 Americans administers in-home caregiver services for a loved one, including elderly parents or grandparents, spouses with chronic illnesses, and children with disabilities. Most of these loved ones would be relegated to institutional care without assistance from their family. Unfortunately, no amount of love or willingness for self-sacrifice can eliminate the mental and physical stress this in-home care can create: "Caregivers have a long exposure to stresses and losses from the dementia and fatigue that comes from caring for their spouses, so they experience fewer positive emotions," said Kathryn Betts Adams, assistant professor of social work at the Mandel School. "Some may have feelings of guilt about participating in activities with friends or in the community when their loved ones are no longer able to do so."
Negative Outcomes Associated with a Lack of Respite Care
Respite care is a way for family members to take a short break from the stress of in-home care. Too many households fail to take advantage of respite care services, burning through familial resources to the detriment of family members' health. Three fifths of family caregivers age 19-64 surveyed recently by the Commonwealth Fund reported fair or poor health, one or more chronic conditions, or a disability, compared with only one-third of non caregivers.
Sadly, some of the worst outcomes aren't statistical ones. Family members, who unwittingly reach a tipping point with their stress levels, may find themselves lashing out at the loved ones they care for. Families, who have been close their entire lives, suddenly find their ties fraying in unexpected ways. Worse yet, failing health can frequently create situations where time runs out before family members can make amends. Caring for family members requires you to sacrifice your time, but it shouldn't require you to sacrifice your affectionate, loving feelings for that person.
Custom Schedules and Environments for Respite Care
There is no one way to design respite care services. Some families need weekly augmentation that might include professional in-home care on Wednesdays and Saturdays or Tuesday and Thursday mornings and Sunday afternoons. Other family situations call for annual or semi-annual vacation time. Two weeks in June and another two weeks for the holidays might be the best answer for many families. In any case, everybody should sit down and discuss the best possible schedule for this type of care, as well as built-in flexibility and reevaluation of this care in the years ahead. Another thing to consider is whether these periods of care will occur inside the home or a separate health care facility. Often, both are viable options.
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Cheap Alternatives to Professional Respite Care
Some families would like to take advantage of respite care services, but simply can't afford the expense. No doubt, it's in critically short supply and expensive, especially for people who need the care of a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse. For many others, however, professional care may not be necessary yet. Basic transfers and daily routines can often be handled by untrained newcomers. You may even be able to circumvent care agencies and advertise in the local paper or online: Current unemployment rates indicate a good number of competent people are out there looking for gainful employment. You can also try contacting babysitters or nannies, who may be willing to switch to elderly care.
If your family member is still in good enough health for this type of solution, you would be wise to take it and save your financial resources for future years that may require more intensive health care services. Just be sure if you're not using a care agency that you take the time to properly interview and conduct a background check of potential caregivers. You don't want to leave yourself, your loved ones, or your home vulnerable to criminal activity and/or immoral behavior from unscrupulous people.