HomeTouch founder and dementia physician, Dr Jamie Wilson, explains respite care and the importance of taking a break.
As a doctor who has worked extensively with family carers, I’ve witnessed how looking after a loved one can be enormously rewarding, but also utterly exhausting. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. So much so, that the medical profession has even coined a phrase for it – “caregiver strain”.
Give yourself permission to rest
The truth is that many caregivers feel guilty and on edge if they spend time away from their loved one. But from everything I’ve seen, and the research evidence backs it up, time apart from your caring duties can make you happier, healthier and better able to deal with the demands of caring.
We all know that tiredness and stress can make us grumpy and irritable, no matter how loving and even-tempered we are on a good day. After a break, you will find that you can return to your loved one feeling refreshed and rebooted, with higher levels of patience and tolerance. Kahlil Gibran said “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you”. Those are wise words. Whether you’re caring for a partner, a parent or someone else, a little space will help your relationship with your loved one grow stronger.
Fit to care
The stresses and strains of caring can affect your physical and mental health. Research studies have shown that carers report nearly double the level of illness, disabilities and chronic conditions. Carole Cochrane from The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, highlighted the absolute importance of respite care, saying “Without these vital breaks, carers can often reach breaking point where they can no longer continue, and their own physical and mental health deteriorates as result.”
It makes sense. It can be impossible to look after yourself when you’re doing a job that involves duties twenty-four hours a day. You just don’t have the time, or frankly the energy to exercise, cook, sleep and see your GP.
I wasn’t surprised to read a survey that confirmed that 83% of carers said that their health had been negatively affected, with increased levels of hypertension and back pain, as well as a deterioration in pre-existing medical conditions. When it comes to mental health, carers took an even bigger hit, with the great majority suffering from stress, anxiety or depression.
The social difference
Caring can be lonely and isolating, even though you’re with someone all day and all night. Taking time out to catch up with family and friends can be a real tonic. A close social network can offer emotional support, a welcome distraction and also a safe space to have a bit of a moan about the stresses of the day! Take it from me, a coffee or a glass of wine and some social chit-chat isn’t just an indulgence, it’s preventative therapy. Carers who maintain a social life, suffer less from stress and all the health problems that it causes.
The right sort of care will depend on the needs and preferences of both you and your loved one. You may prefer regular short breaks to exercise, see friends, or just chill with a book and a brew. Alternatively, a longer period of respite can allow you to holiday and really switch off.
There are lots of options: day centres, short-term residential care, specialised holidays or family and friends lending a hand. As someone who has developed an introductory agency for in-home carers, HomeTouch, it will probably come as no surprise that I believe passionately in the benefits of caregivers that help people in their own homes. It’s flexible, can adapt to your changing needs and allows your loved one to stay in a familiar environment, with all their creature comforts around them.
What is HomeTouch?
HomeTouch was founded by NHS dementia physician, Dr Jamie Wilson, to raise the standard of home-based care. HomeTouch provides choice, transparency and control to families looking for care at an affordable price whilst ensuring carers earn a Living Wage.
People in need of care can select their own carer by searching by postcode on the HomeTouch website (https://myhometouch.com) and by viewing videos of carers and reviews from previous clients. Depending on your preferred approach, you can either message the carer directly or speak to the HomeTouch team by phone before interviewing the carer to decide if they are the right match.
HomeTouch are supported by leading healthcare organisations such as BUPA, Guys and St Thomas’ Charity and NHS Choices, and are a Living Wage accredited employer.