When Caregivers Need a Break

December 12, 2017

If you are one of the millions of people in the US who’ve acted as unpaid caregiver for a family member, you know how emotionally and physically demanding it can be. Cutbacks in Medicare, curtailed insurance coverage, shorter hospital stays, and a shortage in-home healthcare personnel have only added to the challenge, causing family caregivers to shoulder more responsibility for longer periods of time. The average caregiving stint in the US is approximately 4 years; some stretch over decades. It’s no wonder then, that so many caregivers express feelings of burnout and frustration, even depression and anxiety.
Allowing yourself to take breaks from this enormous responsibility is so important, whether it means stepping outside for a few sunny minutes on a beautiful fall afternoon, or arranging for a few weeks’ time off. Here are some ideas for resources to help you de-stress and recharge.
Respite Care
Structured timeouts for caregivers – known as respite care – is a real thing, ranging from informal arrangements with friends or family members to longer-term contracts with professional agencies. Here are a few examples of what respite care coverage looks like:

  • FAMILY and FRIENDS: If you go this route, be specific and concrete with your ask. Get clear on what your friend or family member can commit to in the way of coverage each week or month, and offer to pay for any associated expenses like gas or meal money. Clear expectations and boundaries help head off any confusion or resentment that can sometimes crop up among family or close friends.
  • COMPANION CARE: There are in-home care agencies who provide trained elder companions at hourly rates; sites like have search engines to find ones in your area. Meals on Wheels also offers what they call a Friendly Visitor Program in addition to proving meal delivery; check their website for more information. You can also check in with your local Area Agency on Aging chapter for help with referrals.
  • VETERANS’ OPTIONS: If you are caring for a spouse who is a veteran, they may qualify for respite services offered through the Veterans’ Association. Many operate adult daycare centers or offer trained home-care associates to veterans who qualify; head to the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs to learn more.
  • ADULT DAY SERVICES: Perhaps best suited to seniors with physical and/or cognitive limitations, adult daycare facilities are designed to offer off-site locations for loved ones to spend time socializing with other seniors, enjoying a hot meal, even engaging in fitness activities. Many offer door-to-door transportation, and some provide limited medical care as well. Costs range from hourly to per diem charges, sometimes billable to insurance, Medicare, and Veterans’ services. Check out’s Adult Day Directory for resources near you.

Caregiving Timeouts
If lining up respite care isn’t practical or possible, there are still worthwhile ways for you to take five minutes for yourself to regroup. Here are five things you can start doing right now:

  • BREATHE: It might sound like a cliché, but taking even a minute to practice mindful breathing forces the body to relax. Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose, filling your lungs, and out through your mouth. Repeat three times, letting all the air in and out each cycle.
  • DRINK lots of water: It’s so easy to become dehydrated when you’re focused on someone else’s needs, and that can cause headaches and irritability. Once every few hours, pour yourself a big glass of water, maybe squeezing a lemon in there for flavor.
  • MOVE your body: New studies are proving the benefits of even five-minute bursts of exercise. Do a series of 10 squats, 10 jumping jacks, and 10 lunges – then repeat. You’ll get your heart rate up and think more clearly!
  • PLAN something to look forward to. Think about an outing or activity you want to do over the weekend, say, and start planning the logistics. Having something fun in the near future helps remind you of the good things waiting for you – important to tap into, when caregiving can feel isolating.
  • LISTEN to the radio, or some upbeat music. Having the news on or some tunes in the background can act as a companion, keep you relaxed, and maybe learning something too!

For more ideas and inspiration, head to