Caregivers need vacations too

Whether it's a short weekend trip away or a 10-day cruise, taking a break can help caregivers in so many ways

I woke up today and realized we are into August!

Many of our clients and their families are enjoying summer holidays and I’d be remiss if I didn’t re-run a column on planning a vacation and ensuring your loved one’s care is also being planned and looked after.

It isn’t particularly easy for caregivers to book time off. Even trickier at times, is finding the right level of care and the right person/agency for your aging loved one’s care and well-being.

It’s not uncommon to be met with resistance by caregivers, when discussing taking a break or using respite. In fact, many caregivers have legitimate concerns:

“Who will look after my Dad overnight?” “It’s going to cost money.” “My Mom doesn’t want anyone else to care for her but me.” “What happens if my Mom dies while I’m away?”

As a result, many caregivers never take a vacation.

I don’t know about you, but I get pretty cranky when I don’t have even a small getaway. And I’m not caring for an aging parent!

Whether it’s a short weekend trip away or a 10-day cruise, taking a break can help caregivers in so many ways.

Being able to trust someone else to take care for their loved one or gaining clearer insight to the situation you are living in and reconnecting with yourself and your family are just a few ways caregivers can benefit from a holiday.

Here are some tips to make going on vacation a little easier:

Clone yourself: OK, maybe not literally but do find a replacement caregiver or a network of support. It might be family or friends or you may decide to hire someone. It all depends on how much help and care your loved one needs as well as the length of time away.

Schedule time for the caregiver to meet your aging loved one prior to leaving. This allows the care-receiver to feel more comfortable about you leaving and gives the caregiver additional comfort with the daily or weekly routine.

Go over what needs to be done and highlight a preference on how certain treatments or tasks should be done.

Checklists: It’s better to be over prepared than underprepared! Having detailed instructions for the caregiver will help ease your mind while you are away. Ask your aging loved one to help you with it. Using a checklist to check off allows both the care-receiver and caregiver to see what’s been taken care of each visit.

Financial matters: Make sure all bills are pre-paid and that cash can be accessed easily to meet expenses or emergency expenditures.

Emergency contact: Keep a list of emergency telephone numbers and places of where you are staying with the caregiver and another trusted source. It’s not a bad idea to call your aging loved one’s doctor, case manager or if they are in care the head nurse prior to leaving and let them know you will be travelling and how they can reach you in an emergency.

Emergency plan: Although not easy, talking about what needs to be done in a medical emergency such as a stroke or broken hip is important. A signed health care proxy or representation agreement should be in place and its whereabouts known.

Start early: Yes, that seems obvious! However, trips can sneak up on us quickly. We suggest to families to give themselves a couple of months to plan for respite or to organize care, especially for the first time through.

Don’t spend every day feeling guilty about being away! Enjoy yourself knowing that your loved one is in good hands.

Last but not least, don’t forget to send a postcard!

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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