Family Caregivers Need a Vacation, Too!

Woman dreaming of taking a vacation

Americans have been described as "vacation deprived." According to the most recent "Vacation Deprivation" study from Expedia, workers in the U.S. are tied only with Japan and Thailand in taking the fewest number of vacation days.

Many workers say they simply can't take days off from work. They say no one can fill in for them, or they fear that taking time off will affect their careers. Now, add family caregiving responsibilities to the mix! Workers who also are providing care for an elderly or disabled love one often use up all their vacation time — a day here, a day there, taking their loved one to the doctor or helping with paperwork and hands-on care. It's understandable that they would be a little green-eyed when co-workers return from a week in Hawaii or Cancun!

If you're a family caregiver, the obstacles to taking a vacation might seem insurmountable. But it's worthwhile to brainstorm ways to overcome these obstacles, because many studies reveal the health benefits of vacationing. Vacations provide a break from everyday stress. A change of scenery and routine decreases depression. Recent research published by the European Society of Cardiology even showed that participants in a 30-year study who took few or no vacation days had a 37% greater chance of dying during that time period.

Here are challenges that keep caregivers from taking a vacation, and ways to overcome those challenges:

Money. The budget can be tight for family caregivers. The AARP reports that caregivers spend an average of $7,000 per year caring for their loved one, and many have cut back on their paid work hours or even left work entirely. But taking a vacation need not be terribly expensive. Community colleges, recreation departments and travel organizations offer discounts and travel packages. Don't be afraid to ask around. Out-of-town friends and family might be glad to host you, or might have an available vacation home or timeshare. And what about a "staycation"? Spend a weekend at a local spa, or play tourist in your own town by checking out local attractions.

In-home caregiver plays Scrabble with senior client

Their loved ones' care needs. Contemplating the idea of leaving town for a week leaves many caregivers unable to imagine how their loved one would be safe and cared for. But there are options. Friends and family may be willing to step in while you’re gone. Perhaps a sibling from out of town would stay at your loved one's place. Or check out respite care. Many retirement communities, assisted living facilities and nursing homes offer short-term stays. Even better, check out professional in-home care services. A professional caregiver can provide supervision and assistance with personal care, meal preparation, medication reminders, even housekeeping — in other words, all the things you do, and more. You can hire a caregiver for a few hours per week all the way up to 24/7. You can call the caregiver any time to find out how your loved one is doing, which provides the peace of mind to really let you relax.

Time. Maybe you use all your allotted vacation days providing care for your loved one. If this is the case, consider that hiring in-home care year-round could free up some of those days — and even protect your career in the process. Whether it's for a week or on an ongoing basis, talk to other family members about sharing the cost of home care. They may not realize all that you do, or how much you spend. They may be willing to share the cost, happy that it's a way they can do their part.

Guilt. This can be a tough one. If the person you care for is your spouse, or perhaps a parent who relies on you alone for care, you might think that going away for a week will be very hard for them. (Truth be told, our loved ones can push our buttons, too! "Oh, you go ahead, I’ll be fine" works different ways, depending on tone of voice.) Remind your loved one (and yourself) that taking some time off is good for your health — and for your relationship. Remind them of the fun things they will be doing with the professional caregiver while you're gone.

Long-distance caregiving. If you are one of the millions of caregivers coordinating the care of one or more loved ones from afar, you probably use most of your vacation time visiting them. There goes your three weeks' vacation right there! Here are a couple of workarounds. If your loved one's condition makes it possible, travel with them to a pleasant vacation destination. Or, if you're traveling to visit a senior loved one, schedule a few extra days just for yourself somewhere nearby. (Feeling guilty? Reread the item above this one!)

Going on vacation is so important. You will return refreshed, with your emotional batteries recharged — making you a better employee, and certainly a better caregiver for your loved one.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.