Choosing a Respite Caregiver

Respite care: Short-term services for elderly and disabled people so their primary caregivers get a break.

Providing care for an aging parent or relative can be an all-consuming task, especially if it involves dealing with serious illnesses. Even patient and loving caregivers need to rest and rejuvenate on occasion.

In fact, studies have shown that taking regular breaks is important for the health of caregivers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notes that the demands involved hurt “the health of caregivers, resulting in more vulnerability to infectious diseases, such as colds and flu, and chronic diseases, such heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.” In addition, symptoms of depression are twice as likely among caregivers as among the general population, according to HHS.

Respite care is designed to provide temporary relief for families caring for aged loved ones with chronic illnesses. The care comes in three basic types:

1. Round-the-clock care, which is generally provided by assisted-living facilities or nursing homes. It is your best bet if you need overnight, weekend or extended care. Families often turn to this option to provide time for vacations or to travel to weddings, reunions and other functions. However, not all assisted-living operations and nursing homes offer short-term stays. If you opt for a round-the-clock option, find out if a provider is licensed and check with your state attorney general to see if any complaints have been lodged against the assisted-living or nursing home facility.

2. Adult daycare is popular with caregivers who hold down jobs. (More than 50 percent of caregivers are employed full time, according to the HHS.) Adult daycare provides supervision during the day, along with companionship and stimulation outside the home. Some programs also offer therapeutic activities, such as light physical exercise or art classes. Others are tailored specifically to populations suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

If you choose to go the adult daycare route, look for a quality program that:

  • Conducts an individual-needs assessment before care begins to determine your relative’s specific needs.
  • Provides an active program that meets the social and recreational needs, as well as health care needs of your loved one.
  • Offers a full range of in-house services, including transportation, medical screening, and educational programs.
  • Provides a safe, secure environment with well-trained staffers or volunteers.

3. In-home care services are available in most parts of the United States if an elderly person is too sick or frail to go out. The advantage of in-home programs is that they frequently include a wide range of services, such as health care, entertainment and personal care. They also allow your relative to develop a relationship with a specific provider, or team, which provides continuity of care.

Make sure the company is licensed. Then, check the credentials of the company’s caregivers. Is care provided by a nursing assistant, or a licensed practical nurse who is trained to handle more serious medical situations?

Other questions you can ask:

  • How long has the company been in business?
  • What services are offered?
  • Will the company give you treatment and progress updates?
  • What type of training do care providers receive?
  • What is the company’s policy for dealing with emergency situations and facilitating back-up care if a regular caregiver is sick or on vacation?
  • What is the cost and how is payment handled?

To help decide which respite care option is appropriate, assess your relative’s needs. Examine what his or her daily (and sometimes hourly) health care requirements are and how much of a break is needed. Also, take into consideration social needs, meaning the need for human contact and mental stimulation.

Obviously, the care you arrange for your loved ones is a delicate decision. Using the steps and the resources outlined in this article can help you make the best possible choice.

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