You likely know what respite care is, even though that particular term may not have been used. According to the National Institute on Aging, respite care “provides short-term relief for primary caregivers,” but what it looks like can vary depending on the needs of the caregiver or the person who requires care.
Why Respite Care?
There are many reasons why caregivers seek respite care. They may have someone come into the home one day a week so the regular caregiver can shop, go for their own doctor visits, or attend a class. Some caregivers work full time and need respite care to bridge the gap when family members aren’t available. It isn’t uncommon for spouses to seek respite care when their better half undergoes surgery; depending on their age and health, they may not have the physical strength to lift or support their husband or wife as needed.
Respite care is also something that someone may want to do as a way to check out a residential community to see if it would be a good fit for them before making a permanent commitment. It isn’t that uncommon to test the waters and take a bit of their own “vacation” from daily routines with a week or two stay in a community that offers amenities they may not get at home, such as chef-prepared meals and social activities like poker games, movie nights, and live music performances.
Senior communities that provide respite care do so because they recognize the need. Kathie Quaife, community relations director at Dominion of Louisville, says “There are so many reasons why families and seniors need a safe place to go. Whether it is the senior or the family/caregiver, we all need a break sometimes. During these visits, families have appreciated the opportunity to see that their loved one has more life to live and that it can be done in a community where our staff can facilitate a safe and fun environment for their loved one to continue to grow.”
A Caregiver’s Story
Suzanne Hoffacker is like many caregivers: balancing a full-time job, a marriage, and raising children while also caring for an older parent. Her family was sharing a home with her 80-year-old father, but when he needed a knee replacement, Suzanne says, “It became evident the closer we got to surgery that I couldn’t care for him and be a mom.”
In addition to her concern about the quality of care she could give him post-surgery, she also worried in general about his isolation. “He wasn’t going anywhere or talking to anyone except me and my kids,” she says. “He is a healthy, vibrant man who needs people around him versus living isolated from people his age.”
While Suzanne felt, as many caregivers do, a sense of guilt about needing more help, she decided to reach out to several friends who were caregiving for their own parents. Based on recommendations, Suzanne eventually contacted Everlan of Louisville, which was convenient to her home. She was impressed with Everlan’s warm and caring environment, but she admits that her dad was not really on board initially.
“My father was not happy with the suggestion of going anywhere for respite care. At first, and many times to follow, he expressed frustration and was [sometimes] mean about the suggestion of going somewhere outside the home for rehabilitation. He was angry that all of this was happening and he couldn’t control it. I asked him to go with me and look at the place I was thinking about. He admitted that his mental picture was not at all Everlan,” she says.
When touring a respite care setting, Suzanne recommends giving a loved one time to just take it all in and try to envision themselves there. Touring also gives them a chance to feel a sense of agency and control; they can select the place that feels best to them. Many of the respite care communities are really nice and offer fairly luxurious amenities, but Suzanne recommends checking your enthusiasm: “Be quiet instead of bringing up everything you like about the place. Ultimately, you are seeking a fit for your loved one,” she says.
Even if a loved one agrees that a respite care setting is nice, it doesn’t mean he or she will be happy about going there, at least at first. Being a caregiver is often a delicate balancing act between providing the best care for a loved one while still taking care of oneself, but Suzanne says it is essential to stay firm and remain calm in the face of frustration from a loved one. She relied a lot on the Everlan staff to help and also kept her answers to her father consistent: “For me it was: ‘This is the best place for you to heal physically, socially, and emotionally,’” she says.
No one is at their best right after surgery, so it takes a while to recover and get used to the new normal, even if it is temporary in a respite care setting. This was the case for Suzanne’s dad. “Once he began feeling better and [had] less pain, he began opening himself to enjoy the place. Settling in takes time. There are ups and downs,” she says.
In the end, Suzanne’s dad decided to remain at his new living space following his respite. He has even said to Suzanne, “I am glad you suggested this place.” Overall, he has adjusted, but Suzanne notes, “If a week goes by that we haven’t seen him, due to schedules or what not, he becomes sad and says, ‘Can we talk; things just aren’t going well.’ This translates to, I miss my family and need some time.” Suzanne is responsive to his needs and tries to bring him home each Sunday for dinner so he can reconnect with his loved ones.
By Carrie Vittitoe
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