Guilt free time off for caregivers?

By Mary Bart

Dreaming of a mini-break or a much-needed vacation? Although caregiving is a labour of love that often keeps us on our toes seven days a week, it’s not impossible to plan a getaway.

The fine art of arranging and enjoying a successful vacation requires a caregiver to tackle potential guilt, (either self-imposed or brought on by others), to possibly redefine their expectations and get comfortable with the fact that others can provide quality care on a short-term basis. Assuming this is possible, let’s take a look at how three separate families found three workable getaway solutions: 

Meet Sanjay and his mom
At 89, Sanjay’s mother was quite frail and to top it off, she was recovering from a hip surgery. Because C0VID-19 was in full swing, it seemed like a logical idea for her to move in with her son and his wife Anika so that they could help take care of her. But, with the world getting back to “normal,” the young couple were planning to go to Europe to a friend’s wedding. While she understands that her “kids” need a break, Sanjay’s mom was not willing to move to a cousin’s house. Rather, she’d prefer to explore a variety of “respite care” options at a local assisted-living residence. Together they took a tour, checked the meal options to make sure the dining would be able to provide specialty diabetic food she liked and met the head of nursing. The safety record of the building was important to Sanjay who is an engineer and the ability to welcome visitors was important to their cousins. Mom offered to pay for her stay from her retirement income and before they knew it, arrangements had been made and they were all packing their bags.

Happily during her stay, Sanjay’s mom made some lovely friends who she remained in touch with after she returned home. And, much to her kid’s surprise, she decided to go back and stay for a week at the residence every few months to give them all a break from each other.  

Meet Bev and her sister, Marilyn
Bev, 72 moved in two years ago with her older sister Marilyn, who is 77. Both ladies are widows and given Marilyn’s dementia diagnosis, living together was a way for them to be good company for each other and keep Marilyn at home. 

Bev has gradually found herself at home much more than expected, so she found a Zoom book club that she could join to meet some new virtual friends and read some enjoyable books. As pandemic restrictions loosed, the book club decided that it was time to meet in person for a “long-weekend escape” at a destination spa. Bev loved this idea but wondered if it would be an impossible task to find a trustworthy, substitute caregiver to live with her sister. Her short list included a niece, a neighbour and a friend from church. Through a series of “interviews,” Bev learned that her niece who works full time could stay with Marilyn overnight but would need day-time help from a homecare agency. After all, aside from keeping a watchful eye, Marilyn would need personal care, dressing, several good meals and some activities each day.  

Bev opted to do a few test runs by hiring a few people from different agencies to find a good match for her and Marilyn before the actual mini vacation occurred. Her niece also stayed overnight to make sure she understood what to do if Marilyn woke up. Taking this extra step to practice not only helped Marilyn feel more comfortable but it helped Bev feel more organized and less guilty about leaving.

As part of her plan, she reviewed the personal care and dining routine with a few different caregivers, until she found one she liked. She prepared a pill dispensing system, and a binder of information that included all Marilyn’s vital likes and dislikes. She also stocked
the refrigerator and pantry with Marilyn’s favourite foods, treats and a few meals in advance. 

Bev has more freedom now and is pleased that she has found a formula for a few hours or an overnight or two.

Meet Peter and his dad, Roger
Roger is 64 and has been a wheelchair user for most of his life. He now has a number of medical complications along with a need for dialysis. Peter does not feel comfortable with anyone but himself taking his dad to appointments and Roger’s regular attendants providing day-to-day care. However, they all need a change of scenery. 

Thinking about how guilty he would feel if something went wrong while he was away prompted Peter to invite Roger and his favourite care attendant to come along with them. Together, they planned a two-week getaway in Quebec using Keroul (keroul.qc.ca) as a resource for accessible accommodations, restaurants and shops near appropriate medical facilities where Roger could get his dialysis three times a week.

After dropping his dad off for his kidney treatments, Peter will enjoy a massage, check out a few art galleries and meet some old friends at a local cafe (all things he loves to do by never gets the chance to do while at home). Before booking accommodations and meals, he re confirmed local dialysis arrangements and hotel bathroom accessibility needs. He also asked about room service for when his dad is too tired to go out to eat. 

Peter also looked for hotels close to hospitals, with adjacent rooms, a work-out space and a pool they could all use. Now, all three are looking forward to a change of scenery in la belle province and with a smile on his face, Peter only has two words to say: “Road trip!”

Lessons learned
Time outs are essential for us all at home or when we have a chance to get away. As our friends who shared their stories will agree, it takes a little tenacity, flexibility and a good plan B, to pull it off but it can be done! Bon Voyage!  

Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an internet-based charity that offers education and support to family caregivers.

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