Beth Britton offers advice for family carers on care options to enable them to take a break, and the reasons why it’s important to have some ‘me’ time.

As we emerge from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are taking holidays and short breaks again to boost their physical and mental health. Many unpaid carers may feel that such trips are out of reach for them, but being able to have a break from caring and reap the associated health benefits has never been more important.

We know that unpaid carers took on even more responsibilities during the worst of the COVID pandemic. Statistics gathered by the Alzheimer’s Society between March and September 2020 highlighted that informal carers spent an extra 92 million hours caring for loved ones with dementia. 95% saying it had impacted their physical or mental health

That picture is likely to be representative of the experiences of many unpaid carers, not just people caring for loved ones with dementia. However, for many exhausted and stressed family carers, arranging a break can feel like navigating yet another minefield.

Getting support from family and friends

The easiest option for many informal carers is to upskill a relative or friend to look after the person needing support whilst they take a break. A practical approach to doing this would be to invite them into your home prior to the respite period to ‘shadow’ you. This is what happens in professional care. It will enable the person taking on your role to understand how to best support your loved one, and their likes and dislikes. They can also familiarise themselves with the environment.

To ensure a smooth transition, you may want to create a checklist of daily tasks that need completing or reminders for particular aspects of care, like taking medication or repositioning. It would also be sensible to compile a list of contact numbers to cover different eventualities. You could potentially also make a backup plan if the person who is taking over your role struggles.

Professional respite options

Depending on your financial circumstances, you may get support to pay for respite care or you/the person you care for may need to pay for it privately.

Visiting care

The type of respite care you will need depends on your loved one’s requirements and preferences. If the person you care for only requires help at certain points in the day (like mornings and evenings) and they want to remain at home, you could look at finding a homecare agency to provide support. This could be augmented by family members, friends or a befriender visiting (or phoning/video calling) in-between the care worker visits to ensure the person isn’t lonely and everything is running smoothly.

Live-in care

If the person needs more extensive care and support, or doesn’t want to be left alone, you could look into live-in respite care if the person’s preference is to remain at home. Live-in care varies enormously, from companionship and support with light housework and minimal care, to 24/7 support for a person who has multiple health needs, disabilities or who requires specialist care.

Care home respite breaks

If your loved one is wanting a break away from home, or would like regular contact with lots of different people, a respite break in a care home may be your best option. Your loved one would have the opportunity to enjoy activities they like (or learn new ones), and ideally have a named member of staff to support them and provide feedback for you if you are wanting to keep in touch during your time away.

Remember that if you are pursuing a professional care option, a full assessment should be conducted by the provider to ensure that they can meet your loved one’s needs. Alongside this they should aim to gather as much information as possible about your relative as a person, so that staff can get to know them quickly and support them with meaningful activities.

The challenges of arranging professional respite care

With the pressure on social care services, and with well-respected providers often having waiting lists, it may not be easy to arrange respite care at short notice so start looking now. Be open to the idea that your break may need to be later in the summer or in the autumn.

To begin your search for respite care, visit the Care Choices Directory and choose the option of ‘Respite Care’ in the ‘All Care Types’ dropdown menu.

Keep in mind why you need a break

Although it may seem hard to find the right care and support option (at the right price if you are paying for respite care), don’t lose sight of the main reason you are trying to have a break. Your physical and mental health is important, but may have got lost in your day-to-day caring responsibilities. Prioritising yourself isn’t selfish. It’s vital to enable you to care long-term (if this is what you want), whilst avoiding carer breakdown and significant harm to your health and wellbeing.