Why Respite Is Important and 6 Reasons You May Not Be Getting Enough

January 5, 2022

If you’re providing support for an older adult with health issues on an ongoing basis – a spouse, a parent, a close friend – you need to consider whether you’re getting enough respite.  

The Oxford dictionary defines respite as “a short period of rest or relief from something difficult…”

And whether you choose to openly admit it or not, looking after someone for an extended period is difficult. It takes a toll on you in the long run.

Why respite is important

You may believe that your own needs are secondary. Sure, you may feel tired or preoccupied at times, and yes, this may be putting a strain on other parts of your life, but who are you to complain? 

You’re strong. You’ll get through this.

Besides, if you don’t support them, who else will?

The trouble is powering through will only work for so long. You may think you’re coping until one day a seemingly minor setback sends you into an emotional tailspin. 

Many family caregivers unexpectedly encounter these sorts of “straw that breaks the camel’s back” moments. It’s only after the fact that they truly understand the stress they’ve been under. And by then, their own health may be in jeopardy.

One way to prevent this from happening is to make sure you get regular opportunities to “recharge your batteries”. Time away from caregiving. Respite.

Respite periods can be as short as a few minutes to take a short walk or as long as a week or more to take a much-needed vacation.

Why you may not be getting enough respite

There may be any number of reasons you’re not getting enough respite:

  1. You don’t think you need it. You’re fine. You’ve got this. Anyway, who are you to complain? The person you’re supporting has much bigger problems than you. The thing to remember is that everyone needs to take a break once in a while. If you wait until you’re stressed out, it may already be too late. The trick is to build in periods of respite from the get go. 

  2. You don’t know where to get it. Where do you begin to look for respite? Does it even exist in your community? Chances are there’s some form of respite program available near you, either paid or volunteer. It might take the form of a weekly adult day program or social program. Or a short stay in a retirement community. Or a volunteer willing to spend time with the person you’re supporting. Don’t forget that friends, neighbours, and other family members can also lend a hand. It may just be a matter of asking them.

  3. You don’t trust others to do a good job. You’re worried that whoever steps in for you while you’re taking a break won’t do things right. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience in the past. While it’s true that people may not always live up to your expectations, it’s important not to take this as proof that there’s absolutely no one out there who can provide respite. It may take a few attempts before you find a person you’re comfortable with. 

  4. You think it reflects badly on you or the person you’re supporting. You’re concerned that if you enroll the person you’re supporting in something like a day program it suggests they’ve deteriorating. Or it says you’re failing as a caregiver. Maybe you even believe it yourself. In fact, they may actually thrive in a different environment or in the presence of someone new. Try to stay open to the benefits respite may bring not just to you but the person you’re supporting as well.

  5. You don’t think the person you support will accept it. Maybe they’re resistant to the idea of having someone step in for you. Even if that’s so, that doesn’t mean you should give up on the idea of respite. It may be that they’ll come around if you give them enough time and ease them into things. But even if they continue to resist, you shouldn’t simply accept the status quo. The Caregiver Bill of Rights offers some perspective on this.

  6. There’s nothing suitable or affordable. You’ve checked out respite options in your area, but they’re expensive or inconvenient or they don’t have space available. In that case, you may have to lean more heavily on informal helpers like friends, neighbours, relatives, church groups, etc.
2 women holding hands
Don't be afraid to ask for help

Taking the next step

Of course, if you’re busy providing care and support on top of all the other day-to-day responsibilities in your life, it may be hard to find the time to search for respite or make plans to take advantage of it. You may ask whether it’s worth the effort. Rest assured, in the long run it will be.

If the thought of making plans to take a chunk of time for yourself is overwhelming, try starting small. Even asking someone to help out in a small way so that you can take a fifteen-minute break now and then can make a difference. 

Let us help you

At Tea and Toast, we’ve provided advice about senior living in the Ottawa area to hundreds of family caregivers. We understand the vital role respite plays and can point you to local programs and resources. Talk things through with one of our senior living advisors.

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