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Respite is time off, time away, a much-needed time out for a caregiver. It is not to be confused with the full-time hiring of a professional caregiver who handles virtually all the responsibilities of caregiving for you. Rather, it is the use of someone—whether a friend, relative, volunteer or professional—who can fill in for you, allow you to have “me time,” and assure that your wellness is priority number one.
Unfortunately, notes Jill Kagan, chairperson of the National Respite Coalition, most caregivers don’t realize they are in need of respite care until it is too late. Only five percent of caregiver respondents in a 2004/2005 survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP actually used respite care, and when they did, it was usually because of a crisis; either the caregiver had fallen ill or there had been another emergency.
“It’s very difficult for caregivers to define when they need a break,’’ says Kagan. “They don’t see themselves as caregivers, but as spouses, mothers or sisters whose obligation it is to care for someone. They don’t see themselves as being entitled to a break.”
Caregivers need time away just as any worker needs a vacation from the daily stress of his or her job, says Suzanne Mintz, president and co-founder of the National Family Caregivers Association. “It’s a break that renews you. The ideal respite is to go someplace so you are not even in the same environment. That is the best way to clear your head,” says Mintz. “Respite gives a little bit of your life back.”