Caring Currents

6 Ideas for Getting Time Alone at Home When You're a Caregiver

Last updated: Nov 03, 2008

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A dear friend’s mom planted herself on her couch last summer, announcing her intent to stay right there. Facing the inevitable reality that her mother (who has several health concerns) couldn’t live alone much longer, my friend OK'ed the trial run of living with her mom. 

Things went fine for awhile, as mother and daughter generally get along. But my friend started to feel suffocated. Her teen children were in and out of the house, but her mom was, well, always there. It culminated when her mom walked in on her and her (adult) boyfriend having some private time and, well, you can imagine.

Everyone needs at least some time alone at home. Private time. Puttering time. Time to soak in the quiet or to blast the Supremes or Rolling Stones as loud as you want.

With kids afoot, parents manage this in a number of ways: play dates and sleepovers, summer camps, and, of course, school. For those sharing their home with elders, it’s far more challenging. But there are a number of ways to be a loving caregiver and get the house to yourself now and then.

Take a look. But first: Discuss these options with the seniors in your care to get their buy in, as you're able. As with any thorny roommate issue, solutions work best if they’re reached collaboratively:

  1. Adult day care. Offered at most senior and some community centers, these programs range from all-day care to a few hours. Some offer overnight care, and many have specialized programs for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. To find programs, check your local Area Agency on Aging, a free government-run referral service.
  2. Short-term respite care at nursing homes. Some nursing homes offer short-term care, from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. To find nursing homes near you, check’s local services tool, or your Area Agency on Aging.
  3. Back-up or shared care with family or friends. Even if  “home” is with you, other family members or even close friends may be able to provide back-up care to give you breaks. This can be for one night or an entire summer vacation. Note: Consider regularly scheduled care rotations, like the third weekend of the month, every winter break, or three weeks every summer. Predictable routines tend to be easier on everyone, especially people with dementia, who can be agitated by change.
  4. Hiring caregivers to take a senior out. Yes, this sounds formal, but professional caregivers really can provide sensitive companionship. When looking for caregivers, stress the need for companion care and experience in this area. To find caregivers, once again, check's local resource tool and your Area Agency on Aging. Also ask friends and family for referrals. These interview questions on hiring from an agency or independently should help.
  5. Camps or retreats. A few organizations offer elder camps or retreats, like the Family Caregiver’s Alliance weekend camps for people with cognitive conditions. The best bet for finding programs near you is with an online search for overnight senior respite care or eldercare and your town. And, again, try the Area Agency on Aging. For more ideas on respite particularly for Alzheimer’s caregivers, see Paula Spencer's blog.
  6. Respite Zone. What's this? Well, a private place just for you, in your own home. If it's too difficult to arrange outside help for the seniors in your care (and yes, much depends on their condition) a Respite Zone (detailed in this article on respite care) is a good compromise. It can be a room, corner of a room, or the family bathtub reserved just for you. ("Leave me alone" terms should be spelled out to the family in advance.)

Finally, many people feel guilty at even the thought of asking an elderly person to leave home for a spell. I completely understand this -- it does sound cold. It’s their home, too. But when it’s done thoughtfully, it’s sure better than letting household stress build to the boiling point. There's also a good chance the person in your care will appreciate getting a break from the house (and maybe from you).

What this boils down to is intergenerational household management, which takes patience, experimentation, and realism -- all of which can be done with love.

Photo by Flickr user brigitta under a Creative Commons attribution license.