Can Caregivers Take Vacations?

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Q. I am a full-time caregiver for my father, Frank, who has Alzheimer’s. I am able to work from home, but I often feel like I have two full-time jobs, since caregiving for dad is a full-time job in itself. At work, I am entitled to two weeks of vacation time a year, and in past years, I didn’t take it. My lifelong dream has been to go see the Olympics. I am not getting any younger, and I am finally financially able to fulfill my dream, and would love to book that trip to Rio for this August. But, I feel like I can’t leave my dad, since his needs are too great, and I feel guilty deserting him. Are any of your clients ever in this situation, and if so, do you have any recommendations? Thanks for your help!

A.  Many people who hold full-time jobs use the summer as a time to get away, to try something new, relax, and recharge their batteries. However, for family caregivers with round-the-clock responsibilities, such as yourself, taking a vacation can be especially challenging.

As you are experiencing, leaving a family member who requires daily help can be impossible unless some kind of care situation can be lined up. And even when it is possible to find someone to step in, many caregivers feel guilty leaving, or are afraid to give up control for fear that “no one else will take as good care as I do.” As a result, many caregivers go years without a formal vacation, or even brief breaks, from their caregiving duties.

Despite the challenges, it is entirely possible for busy Alzheimer’s caregivers to take time for their own vacations. In fact, it is often encouraged as over-worked, over-stressed caregivers, such as yourself, are frequently in need of relaxation in order to clear their minds, recharge, and come back as more attentive caregivers.

So, what are you supposed to do? You can follow these tips, and then, perhaps, book that trip to Rio! 

• Allow yourself to relaxWhether it’s traveling, meditating, exercising daily, or carving out some “me” time, you should put your own needs first and take some time to relax. It will give you even more strength to care for your father.

• Dismiss fear: Don’t live in fear that something will happen while you are gone and try not to harbor guilt about the situation. Getting into the right mindset and remembering that things could happen with or without you there is an important exercise to do before leaving on vacation.

• Try taking a smaller break first: This could mean trying out some daytime respite to run errands first, or taking a short weekend break nearby to see how things go.

• Find a support caregiver: Finding a support caregiver and working with them before you leave is a great way to ensure that others can effectively step in from time to time. Transitioning to the support person gradually while you are still present will help your father become comfortable with him or her.

• Hold a family meeting: Start with a family meeting, by phone or Skype, if necessary. Get your siblings involved. Talk about your need for respite, what kind of care your father might need, and how to pay for it. Discuss in advance when you will be away and who will be the point person in an emergency. If your father needs more constant or skilled care, you’ll need other solutions.

• Ask a relative or sibling to stay over: If your relative or sibling is able to help out, your father will be able to stay at home in familiar surroundings with someone he knows and trusts.

• Hire a licensed home care aide: This is the best option if your parent needs a greater level of care. Be sure to pay the aide to come over for a few hours in advance of your trip so your parent can get to know the caregiver — and so he or she will be familiar with your home and responsibilities. To find an aide in your area, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice website maintains a comprehensive database of more than 33,000 home care and hospice agencies searchable by location.

• Consider respite careRespite care is a service designed to give caregivers the chance to leave their family members with someone they trust so they can take a break of a few hours, days or even weeks. Many nursing homes, assisted-living residences, senior communities and post-hospital rehab facilities offer respite services on a short-term basis.

• Hire an Aging Life Specialist to help you evaluate the best options, set up, and oversee the care. She can be your eyes and ears while away, and handle any emergencies that arise. This type of specialist may be that extra little bit of travel insurance you need!
Please visit our Trusted Referrals of Other Senior-Serving Professionals page for resources that we have found to be helpful to many of our clients.
Important Information to Make Available

No matter where your father stays in your absence, it is essential to organize important information for whoever is providing or overseeing care. Compile the following, and make sure it is accessible for the caregiver/geriatric care manager:

• primary and secondary emergency contacts
•a list of other family contacts
•a list of physicians (with their phone numbers and addresses), the preferred hospital and the pharmacy
•a list of all medications and which doctor prescribed them
•documents, including power of attorney, living will, advance directives, and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders (For our clients, hospitals can access these documents using Docubank.)
•insurance cards
Bon Voyage!

Remember, it’s okay to relax and take time for yourself. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, it’s highly encouraged. If you end up going to Rio, I hope that you enjoy your trip!  Until then, please read our blog post about caregiver burnout and how to minimize the stresses involved with caregiving all year round!

At the Farr Law Firm, we recognize that caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient people. If you’re a caregiver, take steps to preserve your own health and well-being. Part of taking care of yourself is planning for your future and for your loved ones. Please call us to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Alzheimer’s Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Alzheimer’s Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Alzheimer’s Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Alzheimer’s Planning: 202-587-2797

 

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