"Go on Vacation? But I'm a Family Caregiver!"
"Out and About: The Home Care Perspective" looked at the benefits seniors gain from enjoying time away from home to visit friends and family, and to take part in favorite activities. Many family caregivers provide the transportation, support and supervision to make it possible for loved ones who are dealing with health challenges to enjoy mood-boosting activities away from home.
But what about caregivers themselves? Many report they haven't had a vacation in years. "I get two weeks off annually," reports one daughter who provides care for her elderly parents in her home. "I use those days taking Mom to the doctor, helping Dad to his stroke rehabilitation appointments—there's no time for me." She admits wistfully, "Sometimes when my co-workers send a postcard from Hawaii or New York, it makes me feel a little envious. I want Mom and Dad to be safe and happy, but I wish I could go on a vacation myself."
These days, many Americans could be described as "vacation-deprived." More than half of us failed to take a vacation at all last year. Higher fuel costs make travel more expensive. Many workers find it harder to get away as downsized companies ask for more work from fewer employees. Family caregivers may be dealing with all the above, as well as juggling their loved one's care needs and even the needs of children still living at home.
Savvy employers know that vacation time is important for employee wellness and morale. A change of scene helps us recharge our emotional batteries. We return to work refreshed and with renewed energy. Experts on family caregiving likewise emphasize that caregivers need to take some time off. They remind us of the top rule caregivers should know to avoid burnout: Caring for yourself is an important part of caring for your loved one.
Is it possible for caregivers to take a vacation? Here are some questions to consider:
Can I afford to take a vacation? For many family caregivers, money is tight. But travel need not be prohibitively expensive. Recreation departments and community colleges may offer economy tours. Senior travelers are eligible for special discounts and travel packages. Or consider a "staycation," checking out museums and other points of interest in your area, perhaps spending a weekend at a local spa or resort. And don’t be afraid to ask around: Out-of-town friends and family members who know how much you do for your loved one might be happy to open their home to you, or may have an available vacation home or time share.
Won’t I feel guilty about leaving my loved one at home? Remind yourself (and perhaps share with your loved one) that vacationing has demonstrable health benefits. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and State University of New York at Oswego recently reported that among 12,000 research subjects, those who took regular vacations were eight times less likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack. Vacations provide a break from everyday stress. A change of scenery and routine decreases depression, improves sleep, increases mental sharpness and even gives a boost to our immune system. You will return a refreshed and recharged, more effective caregiver.
Who will take care of my loved one while I am away? Friends or family members may be willing to step in while you are gone. If this is not an option, some hospitals and nursing homes offer short-term respite care. But most seniors would rather stay in their own home, in familiar surroundings and with less disruption to their routine. Many families find that in-home care is the perfect solution to keep their loved one safe and comfortable at home. A professional in-home caregiver can provide companionship, assistance with the activities of daily living, housekeeping and meal preparation, medication supervision, and regular reports to you to let you know how your loved one is doing. In-home care provides the peace of mind to allow caregivers to really enjoy their vacation. Said one caregiver, "I couldn’t begin to relax on the beach if I was worrying that Dad might have left the stove on!"
How can I take off some "me time" from work when I use all my vacation days providing care for my loved one? This is another way in-home care can support working caregivers. Throughout the year, an in-home caregiver can come to your loved one’s home a few hours a week or full time. The caregiver can take your loved one to healthcare appointments, pick up prescriptions, prepare nutritious meals, provide supervision and companionship for seniors with memory loss—those time-consuming tasks that usually take place during regular working hours and can quickly deplete your vacation time. And the presence of an in-home caregiver provides peace of mind for working caregivers, allowing them to be better employees and better caregivers all year long.
I'm a long-distance caregiver—shouldn’t I spend all my vacations visiting my loved one? Rising numbers of baby boomer caregivers are finding themselves in this situation. Today’s families are often spread out from one end of the country to the other. Vacation time is their only opportunity to get together. If your loved one’s condition permits, how about vacationing together to a pleasant location, perhaps close to their home? (Read "Travel Health and Safety Tips for Seniors" for information on keeping older adults safe and comfortable on the road.) For long-distance caregivers, in-home care can help with senior loved ones' needs throughout the year so visits can focus more on spending time together. And since you’ve already paid the airfare or perhaps made a long drive, after your visit, take a few "bonus days" on your own at a location near your loved one’s community.
The National Family Caregivers Association recently asked family caregivers to name their top concerns. Respondents expressed concern about taking care of their own health, meeting financial needs, employment conflicts and feelings of isolation—but the very top item they named was "not enough respite care," with more than 80 percent listing this concern. Right at Home’s Rita Ude provides more information about in-home respite care in the Right at Home blog.
For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.
Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care services.