Based in Richmond, Va, Catherine is a freelance writer specializing in stories about the arts, parenting, health and wellness, aging, and fascinating people.

Respite Care Provides Caregivers a Chance to Refresh


According to recent research, more than 65 million people provide unpaid care to relatives. Caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours per week providing care, with a quarter of those spending 41 hours a week or more caring for relatives.

Effects of Caregiving

Because it is so all-encompassing, caregiving is stressful and can have a severe impact on a caregiver’s health. Caregivers, for instance, are less likely to exercise and eat healthfully. In addition, they are more likely to skip their own doctor’s appointments and overlook their own health concerns.

In today’s fast paced world in which we balance work, life and family responsibilities, the additional obligations of caring for a loved one can be extremely challenging. According to survey statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, caregivers often pay a steep price for their “labor of love.” For example:

  • 54 percent said their health has gotten worse due to caregiving, which has affected their ability to give care.

  • 35 percent of caregivers have difficulty finding time for themselves.

  • 29 percent experience emotional and physical stress from their role.

  • 29 percent have difficulty balancing work and family responsibilities.

Caregivers also tend to spend less time interacting with their peers socially. Timothy Ray of Colonial Heights first moved in with his mother to care for her after her knee surgery. Although he originally planned to stay for just a few months, he has now been caring for his mother for almost eleven years.

When you take care of someone, it becomes your entire focus,” he says. “My social life is my cell phone and computer screen.

Caregiver Fatigue

Many caregivers, particularly those caring for relatives who need constant medical care and supervision, suffer from caregiver fatigue or burnout because of the near-constant demands of caregiving. The need to balance many different roles – that of caregiver with being an employee, spouse and parent – can also be overwhelming. “You fit your life into the nooks and crannies of someone else’s life,” Ray says.

Respite Care

To help caregivers avoid burnout, River View on the Appomattox Health and Rehab Center in Hopewell provides short-term respite care in addition to long-term care and rehabilitation services. Respite care offers caregivers the assurance that their relatives are being well taken care of while they are on vacation, traveling for work, or just taking much-needed time to meet their own needs.

We give one-on-one care to a resident,” explains Hope Brown, Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at River View. “We make sure they get a bath and get fed – anything to make it easy on the family.

Ray has used respite care for his mother a couple of times to conduct travel for work. As a writer, he can work from home much of the time, but at times he needs to interact face-to-face with colleagues.

Respite care gives you the opportunity to let someone else carry the load for a while and for you to take care of what you need to do.

“I finished in two days what I couldn’t do in months and spent time reconnecting with friends and colleagues.” That time away energized Ray and helped him regain a sense of who he is outside of caregiving. “Reestablishing my professional identity enables me to provide better care,” he says.

When loved ones are left in respite care, River View staff provides regular updates to family members. They call if any issue needs to be addressed, and they call to report on good news, too. “We let them know their loved ones are safe,” explains Brown.

Ray has appreciated the way River View staff members have connected with his mother, who is now much less communicative and dynamic than she once was. “She was welcomed into the group even if when she was first hesitant to participate,” he says. “The dietician asked her what she likes and does not like, and the nurses and CNAs spoke to her with real concern. That gives you a sense of security that you can take a break and let people take care of her.”

Respite care helps Ray appreciate his role as caregiver and helps him feel appreciated in return. “When I come back, I’m not taken for granted,” he says. “My mother is happy to be back home, and I feel appreciated.” The time away helps to reaffirm Ray’s bond with his mother, but it also helps him gain a new perspective. “I’m tempted to see her in terms of loss,” he says. “When I get away and come back, I realize it’s not just about what I have lost.” Rather, Ray feels a renewed sense of purpose as his mother’s caregiver.

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