Caregiver Stress: Choosing Respite Care

“Where’s Joe?” Mom would frequently ask.  She and Dad had been married for more than sixty years when the stress of caring for a wife with Alzheimer’s brought on his heart attack.  

“Stay here.  Wait for Jean!” Joe ordered as the ambulance attendants helped him onto the gurney.  Mom twisted her hands and watched him being wheeled out the door of the Baptist apartment complex. 

She never saw him again.  In her bewildered mind, he had abandoned her. 

He died before he got to the hospital. After a number of family discussions, I brought her from her apartment in Salmon Arm to my home in downtown Vancouver, a city and area in which Mom had never lived, where she knew no-one and where both my husband and I worked full time.  Fortunately, I worked from home.

We caregivers know all too well that in Canada and the US, by far the majority of aging seniors would be left on their own if not for family caregivers.

In fact, two thirds of US caregivers are unpaid family or friends.  

And in British Columbia, a 2017 report from the Office of the Seniors Advocate reveals that unpaid caregivers, family or friends, provide care for 94% of BC seniors requiring assistance. 

The report, Caregivers in Distress: A Growing Problem, affirms that of these caregivers, 29% are in distress.

Almost a year after Mom came to live with us, my sister came to visit.  She lived in Palau with her husband, who was in mission service at the time.  When she saw me, she expressed concern: “You need help, Marg, or you’re going to end up like Dad.”

She arranged for a caregiver from the Philippines to live with us and help care for Mom.  The arrangement worked fairly well for about a year.  The woman, who had been a teacher in the Philippines where her husband and family still resided, did her best to adjust to both Canadian ways and to being separated from her family while caring for a person with dementia.  

When it comes to paid caregivers, a US report states they are often undereducated or untrained for the position, and poorly remunerated.

A 2012 study co-authored by Lee Lindquist, Chief of Geriatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that in-home caregivers received only the minimum wage, and were not well supported by the agencies for whom they worked.

Also, according to the Paraprofessional Health Care Institute, many workers in senior care homes are not trained at all, and surprisingly, most establishments do not check their employees for drug usage or criminal records.

While this may be different in Canada, the following are important questions to raise when looking for an in-home caregiver or a respite facility: 

  • Have the people who will be looking after your loved one received appropriate and adequate training? 
  • Have they been through a criminal records check?  Tested for drug use?

And with regard to respite care in a facility:

  • Is there sufficient support staff for the number of clients?
  • How many clients are in each case worker’s care load?

Your decision about the facility you are considering may be the most important one you will make when it comes to ensuring that your loved one is provided with consistent, competent and loving respite care. 

And as for in-home care workers, it is important to take the time, and make the effort to ensure that the prospective caregiver fully understands your loved one’s unique situation and personal needs. 

And for us as de facto caregivers, it is important to know what we can and cannot expect from the in-home worker.

After two years, Mom went to live with my brother, Jack and my sister-in-law, Kamla, a trauma team nurse who cared for Mom while also working full time and raising two teenagers. Eventually, she found placement for Mom in a new facility near the hospital where she worked. 

Because of Kamla’s medical background, she was well suited to oversee Mom’s care, monitoring her well-being in the long-term care facility.  

When I look at my sister-in-law, I see an angel! 

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