June 19th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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Building vacations into caregiver schedules

by Dorian Martin

Caregivers can find themselves starring in their own private version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Need an example? Start with me.

A week ago, I was “Ms. Hyde” as I reached the breaking point when interacting with Dad. I woke up each morning “mad” and that feeling wouldn’t diminish for most of the day. When he would ask me to do something for him, I’d get huffy. When he didn’t do an easy task and left it for me, I barked out a criticism.

Stress buildup when caring for elders

Let me give you a little background. I haven’t gone out of town for more than two nights in a row while Dad has lived with me. While those short trips are nice, they don’t provide the deep rejuvenation that helped me stay on an even keel as I dealt with the challenges of caregiving.

And those challenges started cascading in February when Dad fell three times over a 24-hour period and then again in March. He didn’t break any bones, but he did shatter his confidence, thus causing him to behave in a way that made him increasingly dependent and helpless. That left me feeling more tethered to the house than normal. And being a very independent person without children, I didn’t adjust well to having to follow behind Dad trying to pick up, clean up or deal with whatever he had left behind.

Interestingly, I didn’t experience this type of stress when caring for Mom. Admittedly my relationship with my mother was historically better than the one with Dad. However, I chalk up the difference in stress levels to the different type of caregiving I provided. Mom was in a nursing home’s locked unit for Alzheimer’s patients so she had regular care from health care professionals. That left me to be the advocate for her, instead of having hands-on responsibilities.

Taking time to recharge batteries

In my current situation, Dad lives with me, which means I am available 24/7 to offer support. As a friend who has experience in caregiving wisely said, “Dorian, you are doing the work of three eight-hour employees every day.” When that message sank in, my crankiness really set in. And when you think about the stress that’s involved, you can definitely see how elder abuse can happen (which I am happy to report didn’t happen here).

Another article discusses caregiver guilt associated with vacations, and the need to find substitute care to allow you to take off some time.

It’s important to take a vacation every now and then. Just a week away thanks to my brother who stayed with Dad has left me mentally refreshed and physically relaxed. And that’s translating into a nicer version of me (a Dr. Jekyll) when I interact with Dad. So I’ve vowed — and I hope you will, too — to take regular vacations while caregiving. They can lower your stress level and help you be a more compassionate and helpful caregiver.

Posted in Caregiving, Stress | 12 Comments »
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12 Comments to “Building vacations into caregiver schedules”

  1. ECL editors

    Thank you for writing and telling us your story. Our very best wishes for you and your husband.

  2. Linda Marshalli

    I AM AT THE “OTHER END.” I AM THE ONE REQUIRING 24/7 CARE. I HAVE MULTIPLE PHYSICAL PROBLEMS INCLUDING JUST HAVING CELLULITIS IN BOTH LEGS, BILATERAL HIP REPLACEMENTS AND A TORN-APART SHOULDER AND ARM IN NEED OF BEING REBILT AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT. I AM ALSO DIABETIC, HAVE STAGE 3 KIDNEY DISEASE, AND ABOUT 8 (OR 7?) HERNIATED DISKS IN MY SPINE. I CAN’T MOVE MY HEAD, MY SHOULDERS OR ARMS, AND E VERYTHING IS EXTREMELY PAINFUL (8-10 ON THE PAIN SCALE).
    MY WONDERFUL HUSBAND OF 48 YEARS IS TAKING C ARE OF ME 24.7. I NEED TO USE THE BATHROOM EVERY HOUR, CANNOT GET IN OR OUT OF BED BY MYSELF, OR MOVE NOR CLEAN UP AFTER MYSELF.

    I AM FULLY AWARE OF EVERYTHING -NO DEMENTIA–JUST FUZZY FROM THE EFFECTS OF ALL THE PAIN MEDICATION.

    BUT WHAT HURTS ME MOST IS SEEING THE EFFECTS OF MY SITUATION ON MY HUSBAND.
    HE IS TOTALLY EXHAUSTED, NERVOUS AND DEPRESSED. I AM RUINING HIS LIFE! aND THAT IS DESTROYING ME MORE THAN MY PHYSICAL PROBLEMS.
    I THOUGHT THAT HE WOULD HAVE SOME RELIEF WHILE I WAS IN REHAB FOR 3 WEEKS AFTER EACH HOSPITALIZATION (CELLULITIS, ONE HIP, THE OTHER HIP) BUT HE SAYS HE CAN’T SLEEP KNOWING I AM IN A FACILITY. ALTHOUGH I URGED HIM TO STAY HOME AND NOT COME EVERY DAY, HE REFUSED–HE CAME AND SAT WITH ME ALL DAY AND INTO THE NIGHT. I WORRIED ABOUT HIM DRIVING HOME WHILE SO UPSET AND EXHAUSTED.
    WHEN AT THE FACILITY, IT’S A MIXED BAG OF CARE. during ONE 3 WEEK STAY I HAD 30 DIFFERENT AIDES ASSIGNED TO ME AT VARIOUS TIMES, SOME WERE NICE, MOST MEAN AND ROTTEN–HATED THEIR JOBS AND DIDN’T CLEAN ME UP WELL. IT WAS JUST AWFUL AND I COUNTED THE DAYS WHEN I COULD COME HOME. oNCE HOME, I WANTED MY HUSBAND TO HAVE RELIEF.
    ALTHOUGH WE CAN’T AFFORD IT FOR LONG, WE HIRED A HOME HEALTH AIDE TO COME IN AND REIEVE HIM A BIT, BUT HE FEELS GUILTY AND CAN’T “LET GO” AND RELAX. I FEEL AS IF I’m KILLING HIM–AND CAN’T DO ANYTHING TO CHANGE IT! IT’S AGONY–BETWEEN THE “REAL ” PHYSICAL PAIN AND THE PAIN OF WHAT I AM DOING TO HIM.

  3. Janet Conner

    How do I settle my guilt/ uncomfortableness with leaving Mom with strangers, people I don’t know, so I can have a vacation with my husband? (I like you haven’t been away for more than 2 nights since Mom came to live with us 2 1/2 yrs. ago.)

  4. Annie

    I needed this article tonight. I just left my mother who is in a SNF and dealing with dementia. I am a nurse of 30 years but it is so different when it is your own. I cry myself to sleep at night because it hurts seeing her like that. We just moved her from a facility that was not doing a good job of keeping her clean and a list goes on. This has awakened me to see how I can take this situation and make lemonade.

    Thanks and my prayers to you and your father

  5. Pat Hersom

    My husband has had INPH for over a year now and has been home for months at a time. It is very hard and I clearly agree with this blogger. Thank you for the article.

  6. Maria Elizabeth

    Would love to get away for even one day, but have no children, family. Don’t want to hire caregiver because I don’t know who would come and husband would think I have left him.

  7. Carolyn

    My name is Carolyn. I’m 52 and I take care of my 90 year old grandmother. Mama suffers from dementia which is progressing. It is just the two of us. My sons are no longer at home. I don’t have any relief even though I have siblings. I am with Mama 24/7. Mama is is unable to walk, therefore, she depends on me “For Everything!” I am grategul for the lift that males it easier for me to get her in and out of the bed.

    Today was a bit stressful. It begin with Mama calling me around 6:30 am (the time I’m quietly enjoying my coffee and time to myself). I got her bathed around 7:10. I prepared her breakfast but she wouldn’t eat but a little. Mama wanted me to put her back in the bed after a couple of hours. When I refuse she wasn’t happy and said some hurtful things. At lunchtime, Mama told me she not eat what I cooked. She wouldn’t drink any water bc I may have put something in that like I did the food (according to her). Mama ended up knocking her food on the floor. I called my brother crying. I was upset with her but stayed out of her room. I was already huffy from earlier. I didn’t want to fuss at her which is why I was crying.

    I don’t have transportation to go anywhere. I do have a garden that I love to work in and where I reflect. I don’t what a vacation is. I haven’t slept away from the house since February. It is hard. I do get stressed at times but I’d still be taking care of my grandmother. She and my grandfather took in and raised 5 grandchildren. They kept my siblings and I together. I love her. I would never turn my back on her by putting her in a nursing home. I pray a lot and read a lot but time away is needed.

  8. e fletcher

    Amen to that Dorian. I am unemployed due to a back disability. My 2 sisters invited me to move back to our home state and help take care of our mother. She was still independent but was experiencing increasing pain in her arthritic hip and I have a nursing background. Mom already had both knees and one hip replaced. Both of my sisters had full time jobs. I took over taking mom to all of her medical appointments, did the shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry and worked out in the garden, and did minor repairs around the house.

    It has now been 8 years since I moved back to help our mother. I never had any time off. Once when I finally got one evening free, my sister called me on my cell phone to tell me that mom was in pain from constipation. Neither sister was willing to do anything to help mom with such a personal and probably unpleasant experience.

    I never had another day off. I was completely burned out at least 3 years ago, but I persisted for mom’s sake. I had heard of caregiver support groups but I never quite got around to contacting one. My 2 sisters ended up in a major battle of eho could dominate the other one.

    Or mother’s health finally began to deteriorate just after mother’s day this year following her 90th birthday. I took mom to numerous doctor appointments, changing her medications, blood tests, etc. I had her put in the hospital for a week to try and get her more comfortable, going back and forth to the hospital, but it became clear that it was now her time to leave us. We brought her back home with Hospice care and I
    was working with her 24 hours a day for her last days with us.

    Mom is now relieved from all pain and I hope she is surrounded with all of her friends and family that preceded her. It has only been 5 days, but I am still busy with all of the work with her estate, and now have to start packing up the entire house that we will have to sell. I think I have had one day when I could sleep in. I don’t know where I will find a place to live, but I haven’t given up hope that one day I will finally have an opportunity to take at least a week for myself.

  9. LINDA

    I RELATE, I HAD THE SAME SITUATION.
    ONLY I TRAVELED BACK AND FORTH TO ANOTHER STATE FOR OVER 20 YEARS LOOKING OUT FOR MY MOM & DAD.
    DURING THE LATTER PART OF THOSE YEARS MY HUSBAND WAS HIT BY A TRUCK WHICH LEFT HIM HANDICAPED AS WELL.
    I FINALLY GOT DAD TO COME LIVE WITH ME IN MY HOME AND WE HAD TO PUT MOM IN NH. DAD WAS WITH ME FOR OVER 2 YRS AND I LOST HIM, STILL HAVE MY MOM IN NH.
    IT WAS VERY TRYING ESPECIALLY WHEN DAD’BEGAN TO FAIL IN HIS HEALTH. HE WAS A 3 WAR VET AND HAD ALWAYS TAKEN CARE OF EVERYTHING AND IT WAS SO HEARTBREAKING TO WATCH HIM GO DOWN. I CHERISH EVEY MINUTE OF THE LAST YEARS I HAD HIM IN MY HOME WITH ME NO MATTER HOW BAD THING GOT,
    SO HANG IN THERE AND THANKS FOR THE ARTICLE. LINDA
    UNLIKE YOU, I HAVE HAD NO HELP, SO TAKING TIME IS ALWAYS AN ISSUE.

  10. Tom Kirchgessner

    Caring for a parent is probably more stressful than caring for a spouse you love more than life itself. My wife has a condition which has destroyed her balance and eyesight so that she can not do anything on her own and often fails to view things which are obvious to a well sighted person. I am her full time care giver and have been for several years. Not only do I not go on any “vacations” but I must be very cautious about shopping or anything else which will have me absent for up to an hour. I still feel blessed that the Lord has given me this task and kept me strong and healthy enough to do it. I have never been happier or more fulfilled. I have certainly had more “fun” in my younger years but never more joy. My wife never complains and we still get to laugh at my culinary mishaps. You sound young and your brother must be a pretty good guy to recognize your need for a little extended help. I am glad you have put Mr. Hyde in the closet where he belongs. God bless you, maybe you could say a little prayer during the day He will hear you and give you some help.

  11. Tiffany

    Because of my mother’s lack of understanding and complete dependence on familiar places and people, what do you suggest for vacation breaks if there are no other family members who can help? I’ve briefly looked into respite care, but I believe her reaction will be what I predict it to be when we finally have to put her in a home- utter panick.
    Thanks.

  12. Diane Stanley

    My husband and I had gotten married 20 years ago this week. We had taken our honeymoon and then went on a cruise two years later. I never got a vacation away from my mom who had Alzheimer’s after that until she passed away on April 28th of this year. I truly believe that it is very important for caregivers to be able to take a break. We had no help and couldn’t afford to get much help for her so we had to do it. The whole experience had left me wtih diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. I am now 60 and feel and look like I am 80.

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