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Respite for the Caregiver…Optional, or Mandatory?

As caregivers, we want to provide the very best possible care for our loved ones. Often, though, we can fall into the trap of being the sole caregiver, convinced that we don’t need much help (if any at all) and that no one else can perform the necessary tasks to meet our high expectations. Unfortunately, statistics show that unless we are willing to plan and utilize opportunities for respite from our caregiving duties—i.e. literally find time away from the situation—burnout is likely to occur.

Why should we seek respite in an effort to prevent burnout? The answer cannot be overstated: burnout will negatively affect you, your loved one, and everyone around you.  In fact, burnout can be dangerous. Although you’re probably the first person to recognize your own fatigue, irritability, mental exhaustion and sense of being overwhelmed, had you considered that burnout can impede your ability to provide that “very best possible care” you’re hoping to sustain?  Yes, depression and irritability are symptoms of burnout—but a host of other things are likely to occur as well, including some memory impairment or a loss of concentration/attention to detail.  If you’re tempted to think these things are not very important, or that you have them under control, consider the degree of focus required to safely negotiate traffic while driving your loved one to the doctor…or the urgency of administering your loved one’s medications correctly every single day.  Chronic, unmanaged stress is damaging in so many more ways than we have time or space to address here…why not just use the simple measure of respite to prevent it in the first place?

Respite helps to manage caregiver stress, and we know that it can prevent burnout!  Malaz Boustani, M.D., MPH, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of the Innovation and Implementation Science Initiative, Indiana University School of Medicine, maintains that respite for a caregiver is not optional; it is mandatory.  For respite to have any lasting impact for the prevention of burnout, however, certain restrictions apply:

1) the caregiver must be willing to take a complete break on a weekly basis; and

2) each weekly break must last for a minimum of eight uninterrupted hours.

This means that if you are the primary caregiver 24/7 (168 hours per week), you will place the caregiving responsibilities in someone else’s capable hands and get away for eight of those hours—to work on your own personal interests, seek needed rest, have some fun, get some exercise…in other words, relax.  Elsewhere.

You can do it!  Respite holds great potential for preserving your own well-being and extending your ability to provide care for the duration of the journey. Here’s to great caregivers!