Tag Archives: respite care

Power of animals to offer brief respite for caregivers

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I visited a local cat cafe for my birthday, and it’s a nice way to spend an hour surrounded by cats with a good cup of coffee. It made me think about how spending time with animals offers the harried family caregiver a convenient, affordable respite from the drudgery and stress of daily duties.

I’m always on the lookout for ways caregivers can slip away for an hour or two and recharge, while their loved one is at adult day care or being cared for by someone else.

For those who love cats, watching them can be relaxing and entertaining. Just observing a cat sleeping is calming, and kittens offer plenty of entertaining hijinks during play time. Petting a purring cat has been shown to have a calming effect.

Dog lovers can visit animal shelters or rescue organizations. Many times, volunteers are needed to walk dogs or just socialize with dogs waiting for a forever home.

Owning a pet may be overwhelming if you are a caregiver, so these options allow you to still connect with the joy animals offer without adding to your workload.

Another thing I love to do is visit butterfly habitats. I found that to be such a soothing, surreal experience, walking through an area filled with fluttering butterflies.

Some may have zoos or other wildlife retreats near them that they enjoy visiting.

Anything that gets you outside of your head for a brief period of time, and focused on something delightful is a worthwhile respite. (It would be nice if caregivers could enjoy a week-long getaway of their choice, but we know that’s difficult to do in many cases.)

We also know that animals can have a positive impact on those with dementia and other diseases. I remember visiting a cat cafe in Montreal, and the daughter had brought her mother, who appeared to have dementia. They both enjoyed their visit.

For more respite care resources, visit Respite Care Share.

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Marking National Family Caregivers Month

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I learned a lot about caregiving from my mother.

Before November slips away, I want to recognize that this is National Family Caregivers Month. I love this year’s theme: “Take Care to Give Care.” Supporting family caregivers is something I believe strongly in, and I am grateful I have the opportunity to give back.

My development of the Respite Care Share concept continues, and I’m working on the poster presentation that will take place at the 2017 Aging in America conference. Along the way, I’ve met many dedicated family caregiver advocates. We have a long ways to go, but as with most things, a grassroots-level, community-based approach will generate quicker results than waiting for government action.

The Caregiver Action Network offers good tips for family caregivers on managing their own health.

  • Stress: Family caregivers often face a tremendous amount of stress, yet ignore their own mental and physical health. I was certainly guilty of this when I was a caregiver. It’s important to take steps to minimize and manage stress, and promptly address any health issues that arise.
  • Healthy lifestyle: It’s easy to throw out healthy habits like a nutritious diet and regular exercise when you are overwhelmed with family caregiving duties. But a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle can make one feel sluggish, and more vulnerable to experiencing health consequences from stress. There was a walking trail adjacent to my mother’s condo, so I went almost daily for walks, which helped relieve stress.
  • “Rest. Recharge. Respite.” I love this mantra from the Caregiver Action Network. My sleep was disrupted every day when I was caregiving for my mother, and there was no way to avoid that (leaking colostomy bags always seem to occur at 3 a.m. and will not wait!), but I tried to make sure I got a set amount of hours of sleep each day. I did take breaks when Mom was stable enough, and that really helped.

A big thank you to all of the family caregivers out there, who are facing another hectic holiday season. There are many people focused on providing greater support for family caregivers, so don’t give up hope.

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What’s the best support a caregiver could receive?

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I am participating in the OpenIDEO’s end-of-life challenge and my idea made the top 50 cut.

The challenge is to reimagine the end-of-life experience for ourselves and for our loved ones. I focused on the end-of-life experience as a caregiver, and the importance of respite care. When caregivers become burned out, everyone suffers. Everyone needs a break, and the end of life can be a longer road than expected. That’s why I submitted the idea of Respite Care Share, which would offer free or discounted vouchers that caregivers could use at hotels and on vacation rental services like Airbnb. Caregiving assistance while the caregiver is away would also be part of the package.

While Medicare covers an allotment of respite care days, and will place a patient in a facility during the respite care period, I found that respite care can be restricted depending upon if there are available beds in a participating facility. Even if you can place your loved one in a facility or find appropriate home care, a nearby weekend getaway can help clear the mind and renew the spirit.

Now I need your help in propelling the idea forward.

The idea as it stands now is that the caregiver respite vouchers would be presented as the centerpiece of a caregiver care package. These packages would include vouchers for respite care and other services, such as massage and other spa services, yoga classes and other personal enrichment services that focus on relaxation.

If you would be so kind as to respond to this 3-question survey, I would greatly appreciate it:

Caregiver Appreciation Survey

Feel free to leave comments on this post as well and share the survey link with other caregivers.

Bottom line, whether you are a current, former or future caregiver, how likely would you be to use respite care vouchers? Is there another form of caregiver support you would rather receive? What else would you want to know about the program?

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The gift of taking a break

It has been so long since I have taken a real vacation that I can’t even remember where I went the last time.

The last several years, taking a real vacation was simply not an option. When you are a caregiver, you are on call 24/7. This is true even if you are a long-distance caregiver. Any time I went away for a few days, I was concerned if I lacked a cell phone signal. Wonder if Mom needed me? Wonder if Dad took a turn for the worse? While I found some enjoyment in weekend trips to the mountains, I never truly could tune out of life’s responsibilities.

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This time, in a trip that was postponed for several years, I took a full week off to visit Florida, stopping in Sanibel Island, Key West and St. Augustine. Sure, it was expensive. Yes, I don’t need any more debt.

joy beachBut if I’ve learned anything over the last several years, it’s that life is unpredictable. Over the last year, several bloggers I follow have lost a parent or other loved one, just like I have. After we have served as dutiful caregivers, the future opens back up for us, and that can be both beautiful and intimidating, like the ocean I viewed over vacation.

I’m trying to be mindful of not putting life’s pleasures on indefinite hold. We don’t know how long we have here, and how long our health will hold up to allow us to enjoy traveling.

Whether you are a caregiver or not, we all need respite from the daily grind. It’s not always feasible to take a trip, but taking a break can come in many forms. I encourage everyone to take time out just for themselves, whether it’s an hour, a day or a week. It’s not selfish to do things for yourself; it’s crucial to your mental, emotional and physical health.

I would love to hear how you recharge, even if you can’t take a traditional vacation.

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“Your mother is driving me crazy”

If you have been following my blog over the past few months (which I greatly appreciate by the way) you know I have been serving as a caregiver for my mother, who was diagnosed with colon cancer. She has made great strides in her recovery. Tomorrow, I’m going home for hopefully a three-week respite until the week of Thanksgiving. I know there are caregivers that never get a respite for years while caring for family members, so I am indeed grateful.

That said, Mom and I are like oil and water. Mom is an extrovert to the extreme; I’m an introvert to the extreme. We were never meant to live together for an extended period of time as adults. I’m a very independent person that, at 38 years old, balks at the idea of my mother telling me what and when to eat, what to wear and how to act. Mom was used to having my Dad to cater to for 40 years, and he was extremely dependent upon her. The man could not have made a cup of coffee for himself. Their relationship was a sign of the times, where the man worked outside of the home, and the woman was the queen of all things domestic.

I know it has been hard for Mom to adjust to losing a great deal of the personal control she had over her domestic life. However, as caregivers know, that doesn’t mean you allow yourself to be bullied. Setting boundaries is a very important step for caregivers, and I have stuck to mine, even if Mom has been displeased with having to deal with her adult daughter versus the little girl that she forever sees in her mind.

So bottom line, neither Mom or I are saints. We get on each other’s nerves, and that’s just the way it is. But through the most difficult of times, I have thought about one of the last sane things Dad said to me, as I was departing from a brief holiday visit a few years ago. I couldn’t wait to get away, back to my life. I told Dad to take care. Dad said, “Your mother is driving me crazy.”

Now, I’m not blaming Dad’s dementia on Mom’s control freak ways. As I said, Dad was very dependent upon Mom, long before the Alzheimer’s set in. But living with my mom these past two months does give me a better appreciation of what Dad experienced. I think Dad was much better at tuning out and letting things just roll of of him than I am.

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