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Self-Care and Respite: Why Caregivers Need Both

Vietnamese senior woman drinking tea and reading book on tablet computer

Respite, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “an interval of rest or relief.”

Respite is an essential necessity that is often overlooked by family caregivers. It should be part of every caregiver’s self-care plan.

While we focus on the older adult (or client) who needs support and services, we also need to pay attention to their direct support system, be it family and/or friends. The health and well-being of each person’s primary support system is important. This is where a self-care plan comes in.

The responsibility of serving as a primary caregiver for someone who is older or has special needs or disabilities can be demanding—physically, mentally and emotionally. Navigating complex systems such as health care, social services, and family support can be stressful, round-the-clock and, at times, overwhelming.

Statistics on primary caregivers show that roughly 30 percent (some studies show higher) predecease the individuals for whom they are caring. A number of factors contribute to this:

  • Caregivers don’t find time to make regular doctor and dentist appointments for their own care.
  • Illnesses that might be diagnosed in early stages go undetected until much later.
  • Stress and its impact on health often goes unnoticed until it’s too late.
  • Caregiver burnout is real. To learn more, visit Caregiver Burnout: Is Your Flame About to Fizzle?, an AgeWise article by my colleague Jullie Gray.

You are a priority too!
I can’t stress enough how important it is to take care of yourself—to create and implement a self-care plan and make respite part of that plan. It is crucial to make yourself a priority. A self-care plan consists of those things you need to take care of yourself, to ensure that your well-being is as much a priority as that of the person for whom you are caring.

For some wonderful ideas on what to include in your self-care plan, I encourage you to read No One is a Bottomless Bucket, an AgeWise article by Diana Moshe, a Spanish program specialist in the Family Caregiver Support Program at CISC.

What is respite care?
Respite care is what you put in place to cover the care needs of your loved one when you are taking a break—a respite from caregiving responsibilities. Respite care can be provided in many ways:

  • In-home care: If your loved one lives in your home or their own, you can bring services and supports to the home with the help of family members, friends, and neighbors. Caregiving support can also be provided by home care agencies or independent professional caregivers. Home care aides can assist with bathing, dressing, medication, and eating, and serve as a companion.
  • Adult day centers: Adult day health and other centers and programs offer a variety of social and creative engagement, as well as some light physical activities and nutrition.
  • Residential settings: Some assisted living communities offer short-term respite stays. A respite care stay can be up to 30 days, depending on the provider. Care is provided 24-hours a day.

How do you coordinate respite care?
There is no set path for respite care; however, there are a number of resources and supports that can help you set a course for self-care and respite care:

  • Community Living Connections (1-844-348-5464) provides caregivers, older adults, adults with disabilities, family members, and service providers with professional information about community resources and service options, including respite care. Calls are free and confidential.
  • The King County Caregiver Support Network is administered by Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for King County, in partnership with a variety of community-based organizations. Caregiver advocates interview each caregiver to better understand their current situation. With this information, the advocate can make referrals to appropriate services and connect you to the support you need.
  • Eldercare Locator is an online resource managed by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging that can help you find aging resources in your area.
  • VA Caregiver Support (1-855-260-3274) is available if you or the loved one you care for is a veteran.
  • Contact an Aging Life Care Professional™ (formerly known as a geriatric care manager) to learn about options such as home care, adult day centers, and other local facilities, or to schedule visits to your loved one while you’re away, monitor a parent who has a home care aide, or be on call in case of an emergency. To learn more, visit the Aging Life Care Association (ALCA) at
  • If your loved one has a Parkinson’s diagnosis, the American Parkinson’s Disease Association—Northwest Chapter offers a Caregiver’s Day Off Program. They offer 20 hours of care per year, contracting with local agencies that offer home and companion care or care from a certified nursing assistant. Care in your home or for an outing gives you many options.

“Caregiving is stressful, difficult work,” reflects my colleague Lisa Mayfield, president-elect of the ALCA. “And with a little research and some thoughtful planning, you can take some time away. You’re investing in your own health. You can confidently leave your loved one in caring hands and get refreshed. Remember—your health is as important as that of the person you are caring for. If you’re not healthy, you can’t be your best for your loved one.”

Contributor Nicole Amico Kane, MSW, LICSW, CMC, is the care management supervisor at Aging Wisdom, an Aging Life Care practice serving King and Snohomish Counties. Nicole is a licensed clinical social worker and a certified care manager.

Whether you are a caregiver or a care receiver, emotional, physical, and financial needs are important. When a caregiver’s needs are taken care of, the person who receives care will benefit, too. Call Community Living Connections to talk with a caregiving specialist (toll-free): 1-844-348-5464