Respite Makes the Difference



According to the American Journal of Public Health, family caregivers who provide 36 or more hours of care a week are more likely than non-caregivers to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety.  For those caring for a parent, the rate is twice as high; for spouses, the rate is six times higher.  The stress associated with caregiving can lead to a weakened immune system, and in some cases, premature death.  The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that elder spousal caregivers experiencing caregiver stress have a 63% higher risk of dying early than non-caregivers. 

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be a family caregiver because it’s bad for your health.  Despite its challenges, many people derive great satisfaction from the caregiving role.  I, for one, would not change the personal decisions I made about helping to care for my parents or my uncle.  However, now older and wiser, I’ve come to realize just how important it is for family caregivers to take care of themselves. 

“Take care of yourself.”  You’ve probably heard it 100 times from 100 different people.  As a caregiver, you are also well aware that taking care of yourself isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Besides, just how does one “take care of him/herself?”

Recent research indicates that the very best way for caregivers to take care of themselves is to experience respite, a break from caregiving activities.  The type and duration of respite depends on the person, the level of stress experienced, and the specific situation.  Some people find that they benefit most from a week’s vacation; others find that just having a short period of time to themselves every day makes a world of difference.  Caregiver respite ideas include

  • Create a special space that is yours (anything from special a room where you live to a backyard bench).
  • Create a respite bag that includes music, reading materials, knitting supplies – anything that helps you feel good and that you can easily grab when you have some time to yourself.  It can help you take that “special space” anywhere.
  • Walk.  Research shows that the rhythm of walking can relieve stress, enhance spirituality, and increase energy levels.  You don’t necessarily need to move fast.  Just think:  Do monks jog as they chant?
  • Spend time with friends.  If you can’t go to them, invite them for coffee or for lunch.
  • Ask for help.  You probably have a few chores that someone else could do… once a week, once a month:  making dinner, dusting, vacuuming, mowing the lawn, etc. 
  • Take advantage of available respite.  If you live in Lake County, contact the Family Caregiver Resource Center (847-546-5733), Caregiver Support at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center (224-610-3472), the Illinois Respite Coalition website (, or one of the many home health/service agencies or senior living communities.

The words of a caregiver in Montreal say it all: “Although I can only be gone a certain length of time and only on her good days, if I want to stay healthy, I’ve got to get out.  I’ve got to get some exercise and my favourite pastime is walking….  I sometimes go to concerts….  It’s important to get out of the house, to change your ideas.  Otherwise, I couldn’t cope.”

For additional respite information and support, contact  ( or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (

Chris Damon, President, Lake County CaregiverNet