Caregivers need holidays too – here’s how to take one

By Wendy Johnstone
August 21, 2014

It’s that time again – summer holidays – and for Carly and myself that means a pilgrimage to Toronto.

Yes, this week’s column on caregivers taking holidays is a bit of a “re-run” from last summer. In my defence, I would argue some information is worth repeating annually!

The timing for this column couldn’t be better. We have several clients with hands-on caregivers helping them stay independent in their homes. The caregivers are wanting to take a few weekends away or in one case a three week trip out of the country. There is a great deal of stress for both the caregivers and the aging parents.

There are legitimate concerns and worries such as, “Who will look after my Dad overnight?”; “It’s going to cost money”; “My Mom has dementia and doesn’t want anyone else to care for her but me.”

Taking a break is really important for caregivers. Without enough time away from caregiving duties, feelings of resentment and burnout may present themselves more readily. Being able to trust someone else to take care of a loved one or gaining clearer insight to the situation at hand and reconnecting with yourself and your family are just a few ways caregivers can benefit from a holiday.
Here are some tips to make going on vacation a little easier:

Clone yourself: OK, maybe not literally but do find a replacement caregiver or a network of support. It might be family or friends or you may decide to hire someone. It all depends on how much help and care your loved one needs as well as the length of time away and financial resources available.

Schedule time for the caregiver to meet your aging loved one prior to leaving. This provides an opportunity to increase comfort levels about you leaving and gives the caregiver additional comfort with the daily or weekly routine.

Checklists: It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared! Having detailed instructions for the caregiver will help ease your mind while you are away. Ask your aging loved one to help you with it.

Financial matters: Make sure all bills are pre-paid and that cash can be accessed easily to meet expenses or emergency expenditures.

Emergency contact: Keep a list of emergency telephone numbers and places of where you are staying with the caregiver and another trusted source. It’s not a bad idea to call your aging loved one’s doctor, case manager or if they are in care the head nurse prior to leaving and let them know you will be travelling and how they can reach you in an emergency.

Emergency plan: Talking about what needs to be done in a medical emergency such as a stroke or broken hip is important. A signed health care proxy or representation agreement should be in place and its whereabouts known.

Start early: Yes, that seems obvious! However, trips can sneak up on us quickly. We suggest to families to give themselves a couple of months to plan for respite or to organize care, especially for the first time through.
Don’t spend every day feeling guilty about being away! Enjoy yourself knowing that your loved one is in good hands.

And with that, I bid you adieu!

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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