Caring for the carers
There are many different types of respite support available. Some common types include:
- in home: a support worker looks after the person you care for in your home
- facility or residential-based: your family member stays for a short period in a care facility like an aged care home or supported accommodation
- community-based: the person you care for joins a day program at an adult day centre, neighbourhood house or community health centre
- alternative family care: your family and friends may be able to help with your caring responsibilities while you take a break. In some areas, there are organisations who can arrange for a trained volunteer carer to provide regular care, activities and friendship for the person you care for
- recreation-based: you and your family member can join organised recreation, social or leisure activities either together or separately
- equipment to support or ease your role.
- emergency respite: if you need to deal with sudden illness, accidents, family troubles or emergencies
Contact your local carers association to discuss these and other opportunities to best suit you.
It is common for carers to feel reluctant about using respite. You may worry about leaving the person you care for, or feel that nobody can look after them as well as you do.
Concerns are normal, but they need to be balanced against the risk that you will burn out. Regular breaks can give you time to re-energise, enjoy different activities and concentrate on other relationships. They can help you to be a better carer.
Remember that respite can also be a break for the person you are supporting. It can give them the opportunity to meet new people and to experience a new environment and change of routine.
Common concerns that carers have with accessing respite care include:
Many carers feel it is their responsibility to provide all the care, all the time. You may feel like a failure asking other people for help, or guilty about enjoying yourself away from the person you are caring for.
You may be anxious about leaving your family member with other people or worry that they will not be cared for properly.
Nobody can replace your expertise or the one-to-one care you provide at home, but remember that respite providers employ trained and skilled staff and operate under strict regulations and standards.
You can help by giving the respite provider as much information as you can about your family member's routines, preferences and requirements.
You may feel that family members or friends will disapprove or decide you can't cope anymore.
Discuss your need for a break with your family. Be open to their concerns but make it clear why respite will help you. If you find it difficult to be firm about your needs, ask your doctor or support worker for advice and help.
Perhaps you don’t know what services are available in your area or how to go about organising a break. You may feel it’s not worth the disruption or that you don't have the time and energy to bother.
Your regional respite and carer support service can help you to find out about respite options in your area and give you advice and support around planning and managing emotional issues. They may also be able to help you to organise bookings and find out if financial assistance is available to help you to cover any cost.
Let them express their concerns and fears, but try to be clear and consistent about why you are considering respite. Reassure them. Show them you feel positive about the break and that you think it will be good for both of you.
Make sure they understand you are not abandoning them. Be clear about when the respite will finish and reassure them that this is only a temporary break for both of you.
Take it slowly. Visit the respite provider together so that your family member knows what to expect.
Start with small breaks and build up to longer ones. Build up familiarity with the new environment and routines gradually.
It may help your family member to adjust if you share the care with respite workers the first few times. For example, stay with your family member the first time they use a day program or be at home for the first few visits by an in-home respite worker.
Take the time to get to know the workers who will be providing respite support. You may be able to negotiate to have the same workers available every time you use a service.
There are some respite services available for people with particular cultural needs or who speak languages other than English.
In some areas, it may also be possible to ask for home-based respite workers from the same culture and language or to organise interpreting services.
The National Continence Helpline is staffed by Nurse Continence Specialists who offer free and confidential information, advice and support. They also provide a wide range of continence-related resources and referrals to local services.