Posted by Beth Britton at 09/08/2012 10:49:50
When you care for a loved one, often amongst the greatest challenges you face is being cared for yourself. The focus is on the person you are looking after, their needs, problems, and how best to solve those, completely ignoring the stress, worry, isolation, health implications and sheer magnitude of the 24/7 commitment that you have.
Carers cannot just walk away from the responsibilities that they take on freely and without expecting anything in return, but what you desperately need when you are caring for a loved one is breaks. You need some rest and relaxation and a chance to do the things that you have neglected, safe in the knowledge that your loved one is being well cared for.
It is vital to have respite periods so that you can come back to your caring refreshed and give of your best. Feeling constantly tired and overwhelmed can make you stressed and irritable with the very person you want to give your all to care for. It may also make you less likely to spot problems with the person you care for early enough, because your own mind and body is struggling to cope.
Ill health amongst carers is a huge problem largely because caring is such a selfless act, and many carers often ignore problems with their own body simply because they feel they ‘don’t have time to be ill’. Taking a step back is good from the point of view of your mental health too – it helps you to find perspective, think about things more constructively, and resolve problems in your own time, rather than trying to juggle the things that you need to think about with the huge task of day-to-day caring.
Respite options vary, from carers coming into your own home, to placements in residential or nursing care and day centres. Family and friends may also be able to help. Having a Community Care Assessment and a Carer’s Assessment from your local authority will decide what you are entitled to and how it will be funded. There are also charities and benevolent organisations that offer options for holidays, either just for you as a carer, or for you and the person you care for. When you have a break, many local authorities also offer Leisure Cards for carers on a low income, enabling you to have discounts off of favourite activities like sports, entertainment or pampering.
Carers often feel guilty for wanting a break, worry that the care their loved one will receive won’t be good enough, or that they will struggle to adapt to not having you there. Respite is a learning curve; you can easily become so immersed in caring that having time away from it feels like an alien concept, but having the confidence to seek that break, see it through, and plan more is vital if you are to look after yourself as well as fulfilling your caring role.
You can also read my previous post 'seeing dementia through a child's eyes.'