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The Caregiver's Cairn: Take a Break

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Blog by Jane Barton

Greetings one and all...

Welcome back to The Caregiver’s Cairn - a sustaining and empowering guide for caregivers and care receivers. I hope you and yours have enjoyed a lovely month since my last posting. I invite you to pour a cup of coffee or hot tea, curl up in a cozy chair, and take a deep breath. In fact, that is the topic of discussion today - the need for caregivers to routinely take a break.

I learned so much from my first experience as a caregiver. Young, inexperienced, and frightened, I attempted to be all things to all people. I assumed the role of primary caregiver for my mom without question. Although I was only 15 years old, I attempted to be all things to all people - to fill in the gaps resulting from my mom’s physical demise. In hindsight, I recognize the fundamental flaw in my approach to caregiving. I failed to care for myself during the eight years that I cared for my mom. As a result, I suffered physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Today, over forty years later, I am much older and a bit wiser. I have been a caregiver many times since the death of my mother in 1981. With each caregiving experience, the need for routine respite is reinforced. Thank goodness respite care is openly discussed and readily available today for those persons dealing with the daunting challenges of illness and aging. Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint. The average duration of required care is currently 4.6 years. So, self care is mandatory for the long haul.

What is respite care? Respite care gives primary caregivers a much needed, short-term break. Caregivers often feel guilty taking time for themselves. However, I would like to invite caregivers to  consider utilizing respite care on a regular basis in order to maintain their own health and well-being. In my world, respite care is not optional! In order to care well for others, we must be well.

Who provides respite care? Family. Friends. Colleagues. Professionals. Quite often there are available community resources to defer some of the costs associated with professional respite care. An initial point of contact is your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) office. Federal grants, foundations, and some disease specific agencies fund respite care programs. It may require some effort and patience to identify your community resources. But believe me, it is time and effort well spent! So, contact your local AAA office. Ask the questions. Identify your options. Once you experience the blessings of routine respite care, you will be a believer too.

Why should  you consider respite  as part of your routine? You must care for yourself if you plan to care for your loved one. Have you ever wondered what would happen if you had your own health crisis? What if you pre-decease your loved one? What then? You can’t eliminate all risk in life; however, you can increase your odds of good health by taking good care of yourself. Take a break! Breathe! Be! The routine of respite  could serve you well. The bottom line - you must care for yourself if you are to care for others.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. I invite you to share your perspective on the caregiving journey. Make suggestions. Pose questions. Provide resources. Share your story. Coming together and sharing, we will improve the process for one and all. I look forward to continuing the conversation next month. Til then, blessings to you and yours...Jane W. Barton

Do you have a question for Jane? Please email us at  coaarp@aarp.org and we will be in touch soon!

 

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