If you are caring for a person with dementia, you may at times feel totally exhausted and need a little caring yourself; just a bit of ‘time out’ to regain your energy, to visit the hairdresser or catch up with an old friend. Taking a break from being the carer is important for anyone providing day to day care for someone with dementia.
Taking a break is important for all those involved as caring for someone with dementia can be physically and emotionally tiring, demanding and stressful. Families and carers can easily become isolated from social contacts, particularly if they are unable to leave the person you are caring for.
Taking a break is important also for those with dementia since they too need a holiday or some time out and create happy memories. It gives the person an opportunity to socialise and meet other people, and to get used to other people providing support and caring for them.
All too often the carer puts their own needs last on the list of priorities to the detriment of themselves and sometimes creating their own health breakdown. Sometimes it is not knowing that help is available or where or how to organise that break. Or sometimes they just don’t feel they could never leave their loved ones and need to stay and provide the care constantly by themselves.
But there are lots of ways to take a break depending on what suits you and your family. The person with dementia can also get to enjoy themselves with new or familiar experiences which can feel either exciting or create anxiety if they haven’t even broken those ties. We usually find it is a very positive enhancement to their quality of life.
Other family members and friends may be happy to help out by giving you a break from caring. Often it’s just a matter of asking.
You may be eligible to also have your break funded by the Federal or State Government, therefore taking the burden of having the break away from you. Sometimes the break may be offered in a specialised centre for people with dementia.
The break may range from a few hours to several days a week depending on needs. Another way to take a break is to have a care worker come to the house to enable you to do things outside the house. They may also accompany the person with dementia to an activity that they enjoy. This is often called in-home respite as it begins and finishes at home. We often find this is the most positive break for both carer and the person with dementia.
It is common for people with dementia to find new environments and new people unsettling. Because of this it is important to plan ahead for a positive respite experience. Many families and carers have found it useful to start using regular respite as early as possible so that everyone can get used to sharing dementia care. It is often best to start with small breaks and build up to longer ones.
You will know best how far in advance to tell the person with dementia about the break. Reassure them if they are anxious and make sure that they know that you are positive about the break, even if you’re feeling a little anxious yourself. Talking with other families and carers about ways they’ve managed to make respite a positive experience may give you some practical ideas for managing.
Our experience has been that having the same carer each and every time the carer wants to have that break then reassures the person with dementia that there is some routine and a familiar face that they have formed a bond with. That is a win/win for both sides.