As an adult child who is a caregiver, you do so much for the person in your life who needs you. In many cases, caregivers are available around the clock, seven days a week, and it can honestly get very exhausting. I know from personal experience that sometimes you wish you could take a break, but if you did, who would care for your loved one? I’m happy to say there is help for you, in the form of respite care.
What is respite care for caregivers? Respite care allows an adult child or caregiver to receive a necessary reprieve while a professional steps in and manages the care of their charge. Services offered through respite care can include:
- Personal hygiene
- Some housekeeping
- Meal prep
- Daily living activities
If you’re interested in learning more about respite care, this is the article for you. In it, I’ll discuss the reasons to consider respite care, how to get it, and whether it’s available for free.
Why Caregivers Need Respite Care
For months or even years, your life might have revolved almost entirely around your loved one. From the moment they or you wake up to when they go to sleep, you’re by their side constantly. Some days you might not even realize how exhausted you are until you can barely keep your eyes open.
It is natural to feel angry, frustrated, exhausted, alone or sad. Caregiver stress — the emotional and physical stress of caregiving — is common. — Mayo Clinic
You’re only human and running yourself ragged day and in day out isn’t good for you. If your stress levels remain raised, you start to run the risk of seeing changes in your own health, not to mention your emotional state.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, “Informal or unpaid caregiving has been associated with:
- Elevated levels of depression and anxiety
- Higher use of psychoactive medications
- Worse self-reported physical health
- Compromised immune function
- Increased risk of early death”
It doesn’t matter how resilient you are – taking care of someone for days (or weeks) on end can drain your emotions and strain your physical health.
Over half (53%) of caregivers indicate that a decline in their health compromises their ability to provide care.” — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Here are some additional reasons to consider respite care for yourself:
There Is More To Your Life Than Just The Person You Are Caring For
You’re a whole, well-rounded person, although you may have forgotten that by now. Even if caring for your loved one is your full time job or career, there are other elements of your life outside of caregiving. You need to tend to these as well.
By renewing your hobbies and interests and perhaps even finding new ones, you’ll get more enjoyment out of life. Your happiness may take backseat to your loved one’s most of the time, but during respite care, you have to remember to make yourself happy above all else.
You Get A Chance To Pour Time Into The Other Relationships In Your Life
If you have a spouse or partner, and especially children, you may not see them as often as you did before you started caring for your senior. The time you do spend with them is likely not quality time, due to your exhaustion. This means you aren’t really able to be “present,” so you’ll barely remember those little moments that can disappear in an instant.
Through respite care, you’ll have a much more open schedule to prioritize your family or loved ones. Also, if you have friends you haven’t seen in a while, you can finally schedule a hangout with them.
You Can Focus On Self-Care
You have needs, too. Remember those? Probably not, but it’s time to change that.
During your time away from your senior loved one, not only should you replenish yourself through your hobbies/interests and your familial or friend bonds, but you need to practice self-care, as well.
Get more sleep, eat nutritiously, get in some exercise, and spend plenty of time on rest and relaxation. While you’ll surely wonder how your senior is doing and you may even feel a little guilty for taking a break, just keep this next point in mind…
You’ll Recharge Your Batteries So You’re A Better Caretaker
When you’re run into the ground and struggle to get through the day, you can get careless.
Maybe you doze off while your senior is in the kitchen and turns on the stove. Maybe you catch them climbing a step ladder to reach something you’d normally grab yourself, but you were too tired to notice what they were up to until it was too late.
When you’re fresh, happy, and healthy, you’re much more alert. That puts you in the best position to do your job well and keep your loved one safe. They need you to use respite care, even if they can’t or don’t say so.
How Do You Arrange Respite Care?
All right, so I’ve managed to convince you that respite care would be best for you. Although it’s not easy to relinquish the care of your senior to someone else – even temporarily – you’ve decided that you have to. Great! So, how do you get started?
First, you have to find an organization or agency that offers this service. As we’ll talk about later, respite care can be free in some instances, but not always.
You may want to start exploring your options through the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging or N4A.
You can also try Eldercare Locator, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging. They have a whole Caregiver Corner chock full of useful information for someone like yourself.
Does Medicare Cover Respite Care For Caregivers?
You probably are wondering if the person you are caring for is on Medicare, is there a possibility this insurance will cover the costs of respite care?
Possibly, but they must be under hospice care for the benefit of respite care to be paid for. Keep in mind – although hospice is usually thought of as end-of-life care, this service may be able to help in the months (and sometimes years) before death.
If your elderly loved one needs caregiving, it may be time to check to see if hospice care is right for them.
Read our article, When To Call Hospice For Elderly Care, to learn about the ways the service can benefit your loved one. There is a quiz in the article: it can help you decide whether it might be time to contact your local Hospice and ask them for more information on their services and how they may be able to help you.
To get onto the hospice program, the senior:
- should be a Medicare Part A enrollee
- needs to have had a doctor diagnose the senior with a terminal illness and given them six months or fewer to live.
After that, the senior would have to sign a statement that gives Medicare permission to shift them to palliative care over their traditional care. Palliative care, by the way, is a type of pain management for terminal patients.
Then, a hospice agency certified through Medicare could provide care for the senior.
How Can I Get Free Respite Care?
If your senior is in good enough health that neither you nor they are planning for end-of-life care anytime soon, what can you do? Medicare won’t pay for your respite care under these circumstances.
That doesn’t mean you have to give up on the idea of taking a break. There are plenty of free respite care options you can explore, so let’s talk about these more now.
If your senior receives Medicaid over Medicare, look into the insurance’s waiver options. Your senior may be eligible for Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly or PACE. If so, you may be able to arrange respite care through this. You can begin researching PACE programs here.
National Respite Network And Research Center
You should also bookmark the website for the National Respite Network and Research Center.
On this website, you can seek out respite funding, programs, and providers that may offer respite care for free. Otherwise, there are adult day care centers and even summer camp options that you may be able to take advantage of, although they would likely charge a fee for their services.
The Senior Companion Program
The Senior Companion Program, through the federal agency, Corporation for National and Community Service, has senior volunteers (age 55+) “who provide assistance and friendship to seniors who have difficulty with daily living tasks, such as shopping or paying bills. The program aims to keep seniors independent longer, and provide respite to family caregivers.”
U. S. Department Of Veteran’s Affairs
The Veteran’s Administration has “two programs for caregivers: The Program of General Caregiver Support Services (eligible Veterans all eras) and the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (eligible post-9/11 Veterans).”
Through these programs, the VA offers two different types of respite care:
- Home Respite Care – in which someone comes to the veteran’s home or the veteran, themselves, goes to an adult daycare program.
- Nursing home respite care – in which the veteran goes into a nursing home for a few days so the caregiver can go out of town and not worry about leaving the person home alone. This is for people who need help with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as help with toileting, dressing, cooking or eating, or taking medications.
If you’re religious, Interfaith Caregivers is another group you may want to seek out. They work purely on a volunteer basis and are willing to help caregivers and seniors, despite age and the person’s faith.
Alzheimer’s Foundation For America
Has your senior loved one been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is a nonprofit that offers grants to caretakers, so you may be able to get respite care at no cost to you.
To find out about respite care, call the AFA’s National Toll-Free Helpline at 866-232-8484 and speak with a licensed social worker to find out how they can help you.
Ways to Reduce Caregiver Stress
Perhaps respite care isn’t immediately in the cards for you. Or, maybe you just finished a break and you’re struggling to get back into things with your senior. The following methods for lessening your stress are ones to keep in mind going forward.
Visit Your Own Doctor
You may be so busy running around to all your senior’s medical appointments that it’s been an eternity since you’ve been to your own doctor. As we said before, if you’re not healthy, then you can’t do a good job caring for the elderly.
The next time you get a minute, schedule an appointment with your doctor, gynecologist, or any other medical professional you haven’t seen in a while. You’ll be glad you did.
Find A Support Group (Or Make One!)
Caring for a senior can be a lonely experience. You may sometimes feel like you’re the only one out there going through this, when in fact millions of adults are caretakers like you. Connect with them through a support group.
To do this, you can search support groups in your neighborhood or even start your own.
If you don’t even have the time to participate in weekly or monthly meetings, then an online support group is almost as good. It will certainly add to your sense of camaraderie and remind you that you’re not alone.
Let Others Step In
Do you have friends, neighbors, or adult siblings who want to help? Take them up on it! You may worry they won’t know how to care for your senior, but if you show them, they should learn quickly.
Take Smaller, Shorter Breaks
Maybe you were hoping for a week off through respite care, but it can be harder to set up a longer break.
If you can only get a few spare hours instead, don’t despair. Whether you use a free respite care resource like those we linked to above, or even a loved one’s assistance, a little bit of time away is always better than none.
Respite care is a service for caregivers that lets them take time off from their duties. During this time, another qualified person will oversee the loved one’s day-to-day needs. This break may last several hours or even days.
In some instances, Medicare may offer respite care coverage, as can Medicaid. If not, many organizations and resources for free or reduced cost care are out there if you know where to look.
Although the thought of leaving your senior loved one for even an hour may make you feel tremendously guilty, you both need you to be at your best. You can only do that through respite care. Please prioritize yourself when you can so you can prioritize your senior that much better.