ParentCare » Vol. 37

Respite care | Support for family caregivers

By Raquel Mullaney

    Serving as a loved one’s family caregiver can be demanding and stressful, but it does have rewards. In this article, Comfort Keepers provides you helpful advice on how to manage your caregiving responsibilities to control stress, so you can better appreciate your role as caregiver.

    caregiver-prvIf it is any consolation, you are not alone. An estimated 44 million Americans ~ accounting for 21 percent of all U.S. households ~ regularly care for an elderly relative or friend. Family and friends provide an estimated 80 percent of senior care.

    As you will read here, there are many supportive resources available to you. So, in the interest of your physical, mental and emotional health ~ and that of your family and the person for whom you are caring ~ don’t approach caregiving responsibilities as if you were alone. We assure you, you are not alone.

    No matter how much you love the person you are caring for, you need regular breaks from caregiving. Nonstop caregiving will zap your energy and take a toll on your physical, mental and emotional health.

    If you will not do it for yourself, please consider that respite care also benefits the person for whom you are caring. After a break, you will return with your battery recharged. You will be refreshed and more effective.

    A respite could be just a day away with friends, an afternoon of personal errands or an exercise break. Or it could be a vacation away from it all.

    You can find relief from numerous sources: Relatives and friends, who can step in as needed; professional in-home senior care providers, such as Comfort Keepers; adult day care centers; and churches and other volunteer organizations, such as senior centers and your local Council on Aging. The Department of Health and Human Services also has an Eldercare Locator at

    Often, family and friends want to help. They just do not know how. As a caregiver, you  can make it easy on them ~ and yourself ~ by always having a list of assignments ready, like preparing meals, picking up a few things at the grocery store, going on a walk with the senior or staying with him or her from time to time.

    Physicians also subscribe to the critical need for caregiving respites. A Practical Guide to Caring for Caregivers, published by the American Academy of Family Physicians, states, “If the caregiver does not receive respite regularly, physicians should give them permission to ask for help and assist them in finding sources for assistance.”

    Before planning respite care, be sure to talk with your loved one about it, explaining the up side for everyone. To help your loved one accept the idea, be sure to involve him or her in making the arrangements.

    For more information on respite care, visit

    How to care for yourself and prevent caregiver burnout

    Besides scheduling regular respites, Comfort Keepers recommends that you practice the following to relieve stress and maintain optimal health:

    • Exercise ~ make it part of your schedule for added energy.
    • Get plenty of sleep ~ at least seven hours.
    • Eat regular, well-balanced meals.
    • Maintain contact with friends for essential emotional support.
    • Stay involved in hobbies and social activities.
    • Join a support group, which can encourage you and back you up with experienced advice.
    • Seek support through your faith and faith community, which could be a good source of volunteer caregiving help.
    • Visit your doctor regularly and share concerns you have about the effects of caregiving on your physical, mental and emotional health.
    • Take time to pamper yourself; for instance, indulge in a warm bath, manicure or massage.
    • Laugh. Find humor in everyday situations and take time out with a humorous book or movie.
    • Keep a journal to record your thoughts and feelings. It provides an essential release for your emotions.
    • Arrange for a family member, friend or volunteer from a church or senior center to call you on a regular basis to see if you need any help.
    • Confide in others. Do not bottle up your emotions.
    • Know your limits. You know what other responsibilities you have, so be realistic about how much time you can give to caregiving. Do not be afraid to delegate.

    How a support group can help you

    Community Support Groups:

    • Get you out of the house on a regular basis and prevent isolation.
    • Put you face-to-face with other caregivers who know what you are dealing with. From their experience, they can offer you relevant advice.
    • Offer you information about local resources available to help you.
    • Open the opportunity for new friendships.

    Internet Support Groups:

    • Enable you to get support and advice as needed and when it’s convenient for you.
    • Provide support without having to leave the house, which could be particularly helpful for those with limited transportation or mobility.
    • Provide the experience and knowledge of a broader pool of participants, which could be especially helpful if your loved one has a rare medical condition and special care needs.

    Caregiver Support and Advice on the Web

    You will find a wealth of online resources to provide caregiving support and advice. Here are a few examples:

    • The Family Caregiver Alliance’s state-by-state Family Care Navigator.
    • Strength for Caring, Johnson and Johnson’s resource center for caregivers.
    • Lotsa Helping Hands, a site that allows family and friends to coordinate caregiving tasks online. The site is sponsored by the National Alliance for Caregiving.
    • Family Caregiving 101, a project of the National Family Caregiving Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving, which operates under the theme, “Family Caregiving: It’s not all up to you.”
    • Online Guide to Caregiving, a comprehensive collection of caregiving articles and tools from AARP The Magazine.

    Raquel Mullaney is president and co-owner with her husband, Robert, of one of the largest Comfort Keepers franchise operations in the U.S. Their business, based in Plymouth, Mass., is an active and accredited member of the Massachusetts Home Care Alliance. It’s been in operation for more than 10 years and has more than 200 caregivers who provide in-home personal and companion care, skilled nursing care and Alzheimer’s and memory care. From a variety of offices, they care for clients in the Worcester, Milford/Blackstone Valley and Metrowest areas in addition to the South Shore and Cape Cod. Mullaney, who also has experience in mental health services, served on the Plymouth Council on Aging board, served as president of the South Shore Women’s Business Network board of directors, served as co-chairman of the South Shore Alzheimer’s Partnership and is currently a member of the Jordan Hospital Philanthropy Committee. For more information regarding services, call (866) 888-5800.

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