Everyone Needs a Vacation—Especially Family Caregivers!
Summer is here, and people are looking forward to hitting the road or taking to the skies for a getaway. What’s your favorite vacation? A week at the beach? A camping trip to a beautiful wilderness area? Taking the kids to Disneyland? Exploring a city where you’ve never been before?
If you’re a family caregiver, you may be tempted to stop reading this article right now. “Vacation, what’s that?” you are probably saying. And it’s true that for people who are providing care for elderly or disabled loved ones, going on a trip may seem like a dim memory from the past.
But experts tell us a change of scene and time off benefit our health. People who take regular vacations have a lower risk of heart disease and other stress-related illnesses. Most employers today know that vacation time is important for employee wellness, and that workers return from their time off refreshed and with renewed energy. Employees get burned out—and so do caregivers!
If you’re a caregiver, set aside for a moment the idea that a vacation is not in the cards for you. Here are some questions you might be asking:
“I live far away from my loved one, so shouldn’t I use all my vacation time visiting?” Today’s families are spread out all over the country and around the world, so many caregivers are in this exact situation. They provide long-distance support all year long, and then take several weeks off to be with elderly loved ones. If your loved one’s health permits, why not take a vacation with them in a place that’s appropriate for their needs? Or make it a family reunion, so other family members can be along to help. (Another tip: if you’re going to be buying plane tickets anyway, take a few extra bonus days all to yourself before flying home.)
“I feel so guilty leaving my loved one at home.” This can be a tough one. If the person you care for is your spouse, or perhaps a parent who relies on you alone for care, you might think that going away for a week will be very hard for them. (Truth be told, our loved ones can push our buttons, too! “Oh, you go ahead, I’ll be fine” works different ways, depending on tone of voice.) But remember: by taking off this time and enjoying a change of scene, you’ll lower your stress level, boost your immune system, and come home with your emotional batteries recharged—all of which also can improve the care you provide. Talk to a counselor if you’re having trouble shaking these feelings of guilt.
“Can I afford to take a vacation?” Money can be tight for caregivers. According to AARP, caregivers spend close to $7,000 per year on their loved one’s medical, household and personal needs. Many caregivers have cut back on their work hours or quit their job entirely. But travel need not be prohibitively expensive. Community colleges, recreation departments and senior travel organizations offer discounts and travel packages. Cut down on lodging costs by staying with a friend or relative. Or take a “staycation,” visiting museums and attractions in your area for a week while someone else cares for your loved one.
“But who will take care of my loved one?” This is the big question, but it’s worth doing some homework and brainstorming. If your loved one lives alone, or with you but can be home alone, friends and family may be willing to step in while you are gone. Perhaps it’s time for your loved one to spend a week with your sibling out of town if that’s feasible. If your loved one needs quite a bit of care and supervision, look into respite care. Senior living communities offer short-term stays, which can provide a beneficial change of scene for your loved one. Perhaps your loved one could spend time at an adult day center, with nutritious meals and enjoyable activities. Home care is another option; a professional in-home caregiver can provide companionship, supervision, and regular check-in calls to you.
And consider that once you’ve worked out an alternate care plan, it will continue to be useful, if you’re called upon to travel for work, or need time off for other tasks and duties—or just to take a break. Many of us find ourselves providing more and more hours of care—in effect, a second full-time job. When it gets to that point, it’s time to investigate resources that can help.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise