A son who care partnered with his father who was living with dementia once said to me, “It was harder for me to walk away from his funeral than it was to walk away from his care.”
This declaration has stuck with me and guided me over the years as I have worked with people living with dementia and with their families. I have learned that most dementia care partners are tenacious. They do not want to let go of that duty. A unique weight accompanies being the world’s leading expert on another person; particularly when that someone can no longer speak or do for themselves. How can you possibly trust someone else to know all that you know and to provide the care like you do, and in just the right way? You ask yourself, “What will happen if I am not there?” But there are times when it is crucial to get away. In fact, there are times when, if you don’t, you aren’t being a good care partner.
I hear care partners say all the time, “I do get breaks from time to time. I can leave the house and go to the grocery store or pick up prescriptions.” If you are still working toward the care of the household or that person, that is really not getting a break. You need to get away entirely every now and then.
The term “respite” is used in senior living to describe a short-term care that provides relief for the primary caregiver. It is one of the most underused tools available to care partners in a long-term care situation.
Respite care is a relatively uncomplicated process in which the person living with dementia comes to stay at Brookdale in one of our dementia care communities for a set amount of time (typically at least 7-10 days) while you, as their care partner, do something for yourself. You can stay home or go away, go shopping, visit friends, or do nothing at all for a few days and tackle some project that is easier to do alone. Some care partners use respite stays to prepare for the holidays or a big family event such as a wedding. In some cases, respite stays are a necessity if a care partner has their own health care event, such as a surgery or hospital stay. The time is yours for whatever you desire, so you can lift the weight off of your shoulders for a period of time.
Knowing when to get away, even for a week, can make a huge difference in your ability to continue in your role over a longer period of time. Being a good partner to the person living with dementia means caring for yourself, too.