This guest post is by Michelle Seitzer. She spent 10 years filling various roles at assisted living communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland, then worked as a public policy coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association in PA before settling down as a full-time freelance writer. Seitzer also served as a long-distance caregiver for her beloved grandfather, who died of complications from Alzheimer’s in 2009. She has blogged for SeniorsforLiving.com, which provides information on assisted living, home care, and Alzheimer’s care, since November 2008, and is the co-moderator of the first #ElderCareChat on Twitter, held every other Wednesday at 1pm EST. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Respite care. If you are a caregiver in any shape or form, you need it, but you probably don’t get enough of it (if you get any at all).

What exactly is respite care?

Merriam-Webster defines it as a period of temporary delay, and an interval of rest or relief. A look at the word’s history is quite telling, too: Its first-known use was in the 13th century and comes from the Latin “respectus,” which means the act of looking back.

But when the kids are hungry for dinner, your spouse had a rough day at work and needs to vent, and your father – who has dementia and lives with your family – is trying to slip out the front door, who has time to look back?

When you’re in the middle of an intense caregiving situation, not to mention in the midst of life’s daily grind, looking back is probably the last thing on your mind (other than perhaps the occasional self-reflection of “Remember when life wasn’t so crazy?”).

The unfortunate reality is that burnout is inevitable. If you don’t take a break, even if it’s just a few mini “time-outs” each day, even the most committed, most energetic caregiver will run out of steam. When that happens, there are bound to be bigger problems (like who will take care of everyone else when you need care?).

Asking for help isn’t easy. Most people would rather not reach out, as it seems to admit defeat on some level. Maybe that’s because we’re looking at it the wrong way: Reaching out should empower us. When we ask for help, we usually become better caregivers.

Caregiver joins his striking caregivers

Caregiver joins his striking caregivers (Photo credit: Simon Oosterman)

Yes, asking for help may involve some extra work on your part, but the more specific you are in your requests, the better your return on investment for sharing the burden (i.e. Can you take Grandma to the grocery store every other Thursday? Can you do the laundry on the weeks I have to help Dad? Can you make a casserole to bring to your uncle’s house on Sundays?). When you ask others to help — and especially if you give them clear instructions or ideas on how they can be most helpful — there is less opportunity for resentment and bitterness to fester. Not to mention the fact that having a specific task prevents them from letting themselves off the hook with a “let me know how I can help” offer that leads nowhere.

Sometimes, the assistance that others offer will surprise you, will bring you joy in ways you didn’t imagine – like asking younger family members to visit an ailing grandparent and finding the relationship blossoms even though you assumed they’d resist your suggestion. (Read more about involving the entire family in caregiving, kids included, here).

It is likely that, for certain caregiving tasks, you are the best person for the job. But you cannot do it all, so take five, 10, or 15 minutes to sit down and think about some things you can delegate to others. Give yourself opportunities for respite, and give your support network the opportunity to serve you and your loved ones. There may be failures or a period of trial and error before you find that asking for help isn’t as awful as it used to be, but give it time. Because, eventually, you’ll be able to cherish “an interval of rest or relief” and perhaps even engage in “the act of looking back,” and that is a beautiful thing.

Are you a caregiver? If so, how do you make time for yourself? Please share in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy “Musically Preparing for a Sandwich“.

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