Senior Living Q & A: Getting away from the stress of elder care

Q. My mother has dementia and lives with me. I would like to be able to get away for a long weekend, but I feel guilty that no one else will take as good care of her as I do.

Though caring for others can be rewarding and meaningful, it’s seldom easy. It can take a toll, undermining physical and emotional health as well as eroding productivity at work and relationships at home. In extreme cases, unrelieved caregiver stress can lead to burnout, neglect, or even abuse. Stepping away helps prevent these negative consequences and preserves the capacity to care.

Begin by taking small, much-needed breaks from the responsibilities of caregiving. Respite can be as brief as stopping for a few moments or relaxing for a few hours, and may not require any outside help. Every caregiver needs to claim the right to this type of respite. Whether pausing to eat a healthy meal, talk with a friend, say some prayers or take a nap, these self-nurturing practices restore energy and are the cornerstones of caregiver well-being. Set aside some time every day that is just for you.

Naturally, respite becomes more complicated when it requires engaging others to step in and assume caregiving duties. Who will help? Do you have family or friends who are willing and able? Will you need to hire professional aides from a home-care agency? How much will it cost? Is it worth the effort to make the arrangements, or easier to just do it yourself?

Caring by yourself may be easier in the short term, but caring without a break is a one-way ticket to the negative consequences already described. If you need help arranging respite care, talk with trusted family or friends, health care professionals or clergy.

Whether brief or extended, I recommend respite as a critical element of healthy self-care for every caregiver.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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