You want a vacation. Everyone does, at one time or another. And with all of the responsibilities you shoulder on a day-to-day basis, you need -- and deserve -- a break. (In fact, if you neglect to take time off to care for yourself, you're likely to suffer from caregiver burnout, a very real problem.)
But how in the world do you take a vacation when you're on call and on the spot taking care of Mom or another loved one? It's a dilemma that every caregiver faces, and there's no question that it's a tough one. However, there are a lot of ways to make sure your loved one is safe and comfortable while you get some much-needed R&R.
It starts with determination: You need this, you deserve it, and you can make it happen. The following strategies, time-tested by caregivers like you, can help you see your vacation plans through.
SEE ALSO: Find In-Home Care Help Near You
Prepare Your Loved One Ahead of Time
As far in advance as possible, start talking to your loved one about your upcoming plans. Explain where you're going and the reasons for your trip, and how much you're looking forward to it.
“Let them know exactly how long you plan to be gone and when you will return. Your family member may totally depend on your help, so put them at ease by laying out the plan of who will be caring for them in your absence,” advises Nick Bryant, a former family caregiver and owner of HoustonCaseManagers.com. “Explain to your loved one that the person that will be caring for them is fully capable of caring for them and no meals, medications or medical appointments will be missed while you are gone.”
After that, frequently mention how excited you are about your vacation; you might share details as they develop to help your loved one "see" your plans. Understanding that this is something important to you will help them balance any distress they may feel and "buck up" to accept the temporary change.
Ask Family and Friends to Pitch in
“A lot of people look to relatives and friends to be a replacement caregiver,” says James Colozzo, author of “You Got to Do What You Got to Do: My Experience Taking Care of My Parents for Over 20 Years.” “The replacement caregiver must be someone you trust since you are the one responsible for your loved one’s care. [Your loved one] must be comfortable with the caregiver and not be afraid to tell them if something is wrong or they do not feel well.”
SEE ALSO: Find In-Home Care Help Near You
It’s important to leave the temporary caregiver with a list of your loved one’s ailments, medications and important contact information and directions for their doctor’s offices or other nearby medical facilities, says Colozzo.
It’s not always easy to ask for this help from family and friends, but delegating is one of the secrets to surviving the stress of family caregiving. If you're worried that your loved one will resist help from someone else, take these steps to get her on board.
Let Your Loved One Have Some Say
Talk to your loved one about whom she'd like to spend time with while you're gone. Knowing the people she feels most comfortable with will help you choose which tasks to delegate to whom. And even if the people your loved one requests aren't available, you've given her some say, which will help her feel better.
Break Up The Jobs
Since these responsibilities are new to your supporters, it's best not to overwhelm any one person with too much to remember. Make a list of what you do during a typical week, then next to each item list names of people or services who could take on that task. Grocery shopping? Perhaps a neighbor could do that for you. Driving to appointments? Another family member, friend, or member of your church coule be a good candidate, or you could set up transportation with a senior transport service in your area. Cooking? Premake some meals, then freeze in single portions and enlist a family member, friend, or paid caregiver to help prepare and clean up.
While getting the basics covered is the top priority, you'll also feel better if your loved one has some regular visitors planned during your absence. (This does wonders for caregiver guilt, too.) Now would be a great time for that long-distance visit from your second cousin, or for your mother's church group to take her out to lunch. A few weeks before you leave, spread the word as widely as possible that visitors are needed, and you may be surprised what materializes.
Hire Short-term Help
Most in-home care agencies can provide you with a personal care assistant for the short term; this is often known as respite care. Using an agency saves you the work of finding, hiring, and training someone, so it's a great way to go in a pinch. To find an in-home care agency near you, use our In-Home Care Directory.
Find Respite Care in an Independent Living Community
You might be surprised to find out how many independent living, assisted living and continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) in your area offer short-term room-and-board options, or respite care. Not only does this option offer the ultimate in peace of mind, it also presents an opportunity for your loved one to experience what an independent living or assisted living facility has to offer. To find out which facilities near you have respite care arrangements, call your Area Agency on Aging or use our Assisted Living Directory.
Check in From Afar
Russell Chertok, founder of Visiting Counselors of New York, which provides counseling and geriatric care management services, suggests turning to technology to help ensure your loved one is getting the care they need while you’re away.
“A growing trend in assisting loved ones is the use of various technologies, such as video monitoring, vital sign monitoring, medication reminding systems and much more,” he says.
A few common tech tools for family caregivers of aging loved ones include:
While these types of tools shouldn’t be used as a stand-in for a dedicated caregiver, especially for a loved one who needs full-time assistance, they can help give you and your loved one some peace of mind in your absence.
When You Can’t Take a Vacation
Sometimes, circumstances won’t allow you to take that much-needed vacation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a break. In that case, Bryant recommends taking a day trip somewhere in your area.
“If you are taking care of a parent full-time, you definitely need time away. Even if its a day trip,” he says. “Google Trips is a great app that helps you to find day trip ideas and things to do in general in your vicinity.”
Caring.com Editorial Manager Laura Dixon contributed to this article.