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Relaxation for hospice caregivers: How can I take a vacation?

by Terre Mirsch

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are upon us. Many eagerly await their planned vacations at the beach or in the mountains where they can finally get some much needed rest and relaxation.

But, what about you? How do caregivers get a summer vacation?

While you long for a vacation or even a short period of respite, no doubt you’ve already stated several reasons why this is not possible. Caregiver concerns often include: “No one can take care of my loved one like I can”; “I feel guilty leaving to have a good time while my loved one is so sick”; and “If I’m not here when something happened, I couldn’t live with myself”. Feelings of guilt, almost universally experienced by dedicated caregivers, may increase and may cause anxiety when thinking about being separated from your loved one.

However, considerable evidence exists regarding the physical, mental, and emotional consequences of caregiver stress. A short vacation away from the responsibilities of caregiving can be beneficial for you and your loved one. Vacation does not necessarily mean traveling overseas for a few weeks (although that is certainly permissible!). It may mean spending the afternoon at the park reading a good novel, taking short day trips to local attractions, spending the weekend at your favorite bed and breakfast, or even a week at your usual vacation spot.

Advance planning and preparation is critical so that you can have peace of mind while away.

Consider the following options for care:

• Inquire about the availability of inpatient respite care. All Medicare certified hospices provide respite care under the Medicare Hospice Benefit. Respite care may be provided in a hospice unit or other contracted facility for up to five consecutive days on an occasional basis.

• Utilize hospice volunteers, who can provide a much needed break. A few hours of time for yourself can be rejuvenating and improve focus.

• Enlist other family members and friends to help. While they may not be able to assume a role as a full time caregiver, perhaps they are able to chip in for a few hours or even a few days.

• Investigate privately paid in-home support which is available in most communities. The cost of this type of care varies by region and may also vary based on the needs of your loved one. Investigate agencies in your area by asking questions about agency licensure and accreditation; qualifications, training, supervision, and bonding of hired staff; as well as how criminal background checks, references, and employee health records are maintained.

Prior to your vacation:

• Introduce the new caregiver–whether that is family, friends, or paid assistance–prior to your departure. If possible, involve them in the care of your loved one ahead of time.

• Make a schedule with details of all duties for the caregiver(s). Include any nuances that are important to you and your loved one. Recognize that while no one can replace your unique touch and way of doing things, the more others understand about you and your loved one’s preferences, the closer they will come to emulating it.

• Refill medication and stock up on medical supplies.

• Prepare and distribute an emergency plan and list of phone numbers, including how you can be reached if necessary.

• Discuss when or how often you would like to be called with updates regarding your loved one.

• Understand that your loved one may appear sicker when your return. The slow, discreet changes that occur with decline in advanced illness are often missed when we see our loved one every day. With a few days away, these typical changes may be more noticeable.

Your loved deserves the very best from you, and finding ways to rest and rejuvenate is essential. Vacation–whether short or long–can provide much needed respite that will improve your own physical and emotional health. It provides the essential life balance that we need during difficult times and will provide the boost you need to be a refreshed and more effective caregiver.

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