Health & Wellness

Providing a Break for Caregivers: Respite helps put focus on neglected parts of life

Helping to care for someone can sometimes be, or feel like, a full-time job. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, “More than 65 million people, 29 percent of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend during any given year, and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.” A similar study by the National Family Caregiver’s Association provides more specific statistics: 95 percent of the caregiver population is caring for a family member who is 21 years of age or older, 44 percent of caregivers are caring for their spouse, and 41 percent of caregivers have been in that role for more than five years.
No matter who you are, dedicating part of your life to assisting someone else can take a mental, emotional, and physical toll. New babies need constant attention, elderly parents may have special routines, and loved ones with chronic conditions – especially something as unpredictable as MS – may bring constant change to your life. No matter who you might provide care for, there is always a danger that you may become so involved in your role as a caregiver that you fail to properly care for yourself. This can lead to high levels of stress, social withdrawl, and burnout. When these issues come into play, it will not only deeply affect your quality of life, but it will also hinder your ability to properly fulfill your duties as a caregiver.
The National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare have reported that 72 percent of family caregivers do not regularly attend, or actively skip, their own doctor appointments. The studies also revealed that 63 percent of caregivers report poor eating habits, and 58 percent have worse exercise habits than before they became caregivers. These statistics paint a grim picture of caregivers who do not take the time to properly care for themselves, and they are exactly why respite care exists.
Respite is care for caregivers, and the benefits it can offer are immense. Respite allows you to take a break from caregiving, with another trusted person providing care in your absence. When you dedicate 20-40 hours or more each week to caregiving, taking some time to step away from that role can allow you to physically and mentally recharge.
Sometimes you simply need time to yourself so you can relax, relieve stress, or keep up with a hobby. But respite isn’t just for time alone to relax. It can be used for any number of things. Respite allows you to balance your role as a caregiver with other aspects of your life. You may need respite to run errands, such as grocery shopping or keeping a doctor’s appointment. Other times, respite may be needed to attend your child’s sporting events, or go on a family vacation. Everyone’s situation and requirements are different, but if there are certain aspects of your life that require extra care, are impossible without help, or have fallen by the wayside because of your dedication to your role as a caregiver, respite can be used to help give those things the attention they require.
Respite can come in many forms. For people with a strong network of family and friends around them, simply sharing the responsibilities of care can be respite for a primary caregiver. These situations not only allow you to manage your own affairs, but also can often build stronger camaraderie between the people sharing caregiving responsibilities.
For people who do not have a local support system to count on, there are still resources available to you. Homecare agencies, such as Rescare and Interim, exist solely to provide home and respite care. These agencies send trained, trusted professionals to assist you. They can offer respite for several hours on a single day during the week, or for shorter periods of time over consecutive days. Organizations, such as MS Focus, work with agencies like these to provide home care and respite to the MS community.
As family caregivers, people take on the role out of love and respect for those closest to them. Regardless of whether you are a full-time caregiver who needs time for better self-care, or a part-time caregiver who needs help to balance other responsibilities, some form of respite care exists for you.