By Dr. Mikol Davis
Millions of caregivers throughout our country are putting in long hours, putting up with very difficult circumstances, including difficult aging loved ones, and have little or no relief. If you don't have much money to spare, how can you get a break? Do you dare give yourself one?
Consider giving yourself the gift of respite, or rest, temporarily, from your caregiving duties. If you are able to manage it financially, many senior living facilities offer short term care for an elder so that family caregivers can take a break, get away, or just have freedom from the responsibility for a bit. Often, the senior living facility will care for your elder for a weekend, or a week, without further obligation to move in or sign on for any other services. A nice place to stay, meals, socialization and sometimes special events are all made available to the elder. You pay by the day, or weekend, or week, according to how the facility creates respite care for those who do not live full time in the facility.
The same kind of respite care may be available at assisted living, skilled nursing facilities, and adult day care services, if these are in your area. The cost is often reasonable, though it varies a great deal among states and regions. It is certainly worth asking about. If you are a caregiver, either part time or full time, you deserve a vacation now and then, just as everyone does from any other job. Find a way to take it, and there is no need for guilty feelings.
If you don't have the money to pay for respite care at a facility, it is possible to apply for a grant. The Alzheimer's Foundation of America, part of the Alzheimer's Association, makes a limited number of Family Respite Care Grants available for families who are caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia. There are application deadlines in spring and fall. See http://www.alzfdn.org/ for details. Not everyone who applies gets the grant, but it is certainly worth a try.
If you can't get a grant, or the wait to see if you get it is too long, consider using networks of support that other caregivers are using: church or religious groups, volunteer organizations or family and friends. Arranging in advance for a rest for yourself can be done. You'll need to think it through, do your research, set up a time on your calendar, and then execute your plan! Others may not offer to give you a break, but may be very willing to do so if you ask. If you normally get holiday gifts from family, why not ask for the funds to get respite care instead?
While no one can take care of an aging loved one the way you can, others are quite capable of giving you some relief. If your own family is unable or unwilling to help, give you a rest from your duties, go outside the family in every way possible. This may take some work, but it's worth the effort. If you need to give yourself an excuse because you feel you "should" be available non-stop for an aging loved one, think about loving yourself enough to allow a rest. A break can recharge your batteries and help you keep going on the journey ahead.