Monday 19 February 2018


Once in a while in the life of a caregiver, the chance of a few days away from home reveals itself. A respite break might come from a community care home or it might be arranged with the help of family and friends who have offered to stay with a loved one for a few days.

But time away might seem inconceivable when we are the only knowledge keepers of our loved ones' habits, medications and preferences. Training someone new to come in for a few days seems like a gargantuan task that might be more bother than it's worth.

It doesn't have to be that hard. If you DO have an option to take a break, plan it carefully to ensure that both you and your loved one will actually relax and enjoy the refreshment of change.

1) Ease your loved one into the idea of your break slowly. If your respite plans include a stay at a care home, visit a few times before you leave and extend the time with each visit. Explore the facility and introduce your loved one to staff. Engage in an activity together there with other residents, if you can. If your plans include someone else staying at home with your loved one, ensure that everyone knows each other well before your holiday. This might mean a few home visits and even an outing together.

2) Write out a care plan and keep paper copies at home as well as online (for easy access multiple ways). Include the following information:

  • Full Name
  • Address and Telephone
  • Date of Birth and Health Card #, Social Security #, Insurance Information
  • Physician names and contacts
  • Emergency Contacts
  • Diagnoses and current medications with times and doses
  • Recent health history (if there are any recent illnesses or ongoing health concerns
  • A day/night outline of routine activities
  • A calendar of planned activities while you are away
  • A list of likes/dislikes including food preferences, TV shows, etc. 
3) Make a plan of how and when you are going to keep in touch with 'home' while away. You may ask carers to update you via email once a day - make sure you list the type of information you want reported. You may wish to know about your loved one's mood, or what they ate. Don't assume that carers will know what to tell you - they won't unless they're told. Think about how often you would like to call or skype home to speak with your loved one or their carer. A call plan will mean you can relax, knowing that your loved one can be reassured that you will call at a certain time. Or, you may decide that you prefer to speak with your loved one and his/her carer only in a case of emergency. The goal is to make arrangements that are planned and that are designed to ease stress.

4) There may be a charity that can help with the cost of care for your loved so you can have a break. Help for Alzheimer's Families, The National Respite Network and Resource Center, the National Family Caregiver Support Program and a variety of programs in Canada offer funding support for family caregiver respite.

4) Keep a photo journal of your time away to share with your loved one when you get home so that you can relive your holiday and share it with your loved one, emphasizing that he/she helped to give you a break. 

There are so many barriers for caregivers to access respite. Family and friends may not be willing or equipped to step in. Residential care may not be an option. A loved one with Alzheimer's may suffer too much from change in routine, or a non-speaking child with developmental disabilities may be too vulnerable to place in the care of others. Nevertheless, having these plans in place (or at least thinking about them) will put you in a better position if you ever HAVE to leave home suddenly. And for those caregivers who CAN get away for a break, hopefully these tips will make a holiday more relaxing. 

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