VACATION NEEDED for CAREGIVER’s HEALTH
Millions of them…….
Full-time caregivers deserve a medal and may well qualify for sainthood (mostly) but not for benefits. If accepted workplace standards for health and welfare were applied, most would be due a vacation. They are for the most part unpaid, whether volunteers or not. Chances are pretty good that they won’t get that vacation.
This seems to be an issue of growing social and economic concern. A recent report, Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, offers analysis. Of the estimated 40 million unpaid family caregivers in our country, 34 million are providing care to an adult 50 years old +. The care they provide (over 21 hours/week) prevents, or at least delays, the recipient from entering a nursing home. In many cases it enables the recipient to age in place or remain in their home. Since many of the caretakers are also working for income, it’s enough to wear anyone out. The strain is particularly intense when it’s a spouse receiving care.
Three of five caregivers providing for spouses are helping with long term disabilities or illnesses and 57% did not feel that there was really any choice. They also did not expect the situation would improve. Over a third reported that their loved one suffered more than one debilitating condition. The report acknowledges that three of five caregivers are women.
There are some very demanding physical tasks on the caregiver’s list as well. Start with all or most of the housekeeping (72%) and complicate that with typical issues associated with incontinence, diapers, extra laundry, toileting, bathing and such. If the recipient is getting physical therapy, that’s great but perhaps it is the caregiver who needs guidance from the physical therapist in how to lift and assist. Strength and weight training might be in order as well. If there was only time……
Mobility and transportation are very demanding for caregivers and while there are ways to make this easier. Chores outside the home like grocery shopping and appointments require strategy and tactics. Getting a disabled, seriously ill or incapable spouse in and out of bed, around the home, to the toilet or bath, to a medical appointment or even just to the table for meals is physically demanding. Frequently, the use of a heavy or awkward device (wheelchairs, lift chairs, straps, halters etc.) is involved. If the recipient falls, well, that’s a whole new adventure.
Time off for great behavior
It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that caregivers in this situation need some kind of vacation or holiday to refresh and regenerate. Vacations are highly recommended for employees at all levels but sometimes volunteers are overlooked. At least 50% of those reporting in the 2015 study felt they didn’t have a choice and that their commitment would not end any time soon. The stress of it all contributes to attitude and satisfaction and, in turn, to performance. Almost two thirds also reported that their own health had deteriorated due to the demands of caregiving.
So……these gals need a vacation.
Simple enough in concept but there are at least three major impediments.
- Cooperation of the recipient
A mini-vacation, better than none, is just a chance to get away for the afternoon or evening. It’s the most likely to resist the impediments listed. A caregiver can arrange for a suitable substitute provided she/he has managed to keep alive the most minimal social support network. Some church communities manage lists of volunteers who can sit with the person who needs constant care while the caregiver just takes a few hours out. Sometimes neighbors or other family members are willing to stay a few hours. Some of the recipients can stay alone for a few hours at a time though for some others even a short time presents too great a risk. But, the list of opportunities to relieve caregivers for short periods is seemingly inexhaustible (e.g. grocery or Christmas shopping, personal appointments for hair, gym or medical attention or social clubs, perhaps the theater or an evening with friends). Maybe such a mini-vacation allows the caregiver a hike in the park, round of golf, day of fishing or poker night. The ever popular “stay-cation” version might be a chance to work on a hobby or interest (reading, home repairs, gardening, sewing, cooking, woodworking, sculpting, painting) uninterrupted for several hours. Many of those activities are postponed indefinitely by caregivers. Short periods of relief might be at the top of the gift list when family and friends wonder how to help. A caregiver’s social support network may have fallen prey to the isolation and lack of time inherent in the role of caregiver. This is true of those employed as well, particularly those who have arranged work from home or self-employment as alternative source of income. If this is the case, resources can be found on the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC ), Caring or AARP Resources websites.
Short-term respite care
The third item on my list of impediments concerns the attitude and abilities of the recipient of care, often a loved one of the caregiver. The need for short-term respite care is recognized by Medicare and a number of facilities are able to provide. Nursing homes and full assisted living institutions may be able to help as they are better able to provide for medication and physical infirmities than a network of friends and family. They may also be available for longer periods than a friend or family member. But, it is not without cost. When seeking such assistance it is important to recognize the difference between situations. Some assistance is only available when hospice has been recommended. Read AARP on respite care, Medicare answers, VA assistance and any applicable long-term care insurance provisions carefully. Get help with interpretation.
Travel changes outlook
I travel frequently and I hear from family, friends and colleagues that there is nothing like travel to change one’s perspective. This seems particularly true if the traveler has completely changed venue like visiting a foreign country or a wilderness setting. Others are refreshed by travel involving great crowds experiencing thrills and spills as in resorts and theme parks or cultural activities with opportunities to experience something different as in museums, aquariums, galleries or educational institutions that host structured vacations. Who may be more in need of a change of venue than the full-time caregiver? But, given the odds that affordability is likely a big issue, such a vacation is easier dreamed than done.
Recently, I learned of funding assistance offered by Road Scholar (a creation of Elderhostel, Inc.) that includes variety of vacation opportunities for caregivers. I’d never heard of the organization until that occasion. It’s a nonprofit organization and offers travel scholarships, called impact grants. The grants are specific, up to $1,300 and must be used for adventures in the U.S. that cost less than $1,400. A short application form (online) is required. The trips are listed on their website, find an adventure tab. If you have questions not answered on the website, call 800-454-5768. According to their website, a caregiver qualifies for an impact grant in these categories:
- your loved one is receiving Home Care, Hospice, visiting nurse, LPN services, or comparable or related services.
- your loved one is in Hospice, Adult Day Care, Memory-care, Nursing Home or comparable or related facility.
- you recently lost a loved one who was in any of the above situations.
- you live in the United States and are 50 years of age or older.
One of the trips on the Road Scholar website happens to be a national park tour. But visiting one of the national parks can be a great vacation with a much smaller group, a few friends or even alone. The national park system (NPS) manages 84 million acres of public land.
There are 59 major parks and 410 sites dedicated to specific display such as monuments and battlefields. Most of the parks have an admission fee of some kind intended to supplement the dedicated budget line item for National Park Service. But, anyone over 62 can purchase a lifetime pass good at any of the parks and sites for $10. Free lifetime passes are available to the permanently disabled. This year, all the parks will be open admission free for the 100th birthday celebration days Aug 25-28 and Sep 24. National parks and monuments can be found in almost any of the states and there’s bound to be at least one within a reasonable driving distance. Reasonable lodging can usually be found in nearby towns. To find the nearest (or perhaps farthest) from your location, just go to the related website findyourpark. Most of the parks, except the wilderness destinations, have some sort of accommodations for disabilities, so the caregiver whose own health may have suffered, need not be intimidated. There might be no better way to refresh than to get in touch with Nature.
Logistics is one of those impediments mentioned earlier. If the demands of travel are insurmountable, it’s a dream, not a plan. A number of entrepreneurs have seen this as a problem with solutions. One example, Silver Wings Care Management* provides skilled companions for elderly travelers. There are others and examples can be found on the referenced resource pages. Ocean cruises, bus and train trips may prove easier than air or auto travel.
There are a number of resources for those who do not wish to travel alone including various bus, senior and small group tours. These are easily found with a search online. This is also the 30th anniversary of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) so it might pay to take a peak at what rights have been yours since 1986.
For your own health and sanity, take some time off.
* not an indorsement/affiliate