Respite for Caregivers Is a Regenerative Gift With Many Rewards

Respite for Caregivers Is a Regenerative Gift With Many Rewards

Respite is a word that has a soothing, healing, restorative sound. It is relief from a situation of stress or exhaustion. It is a temporary safe haven—a limited time in tranquility to recover before returning to the mundane grind. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as being a reprieve or a short period of rest and relaxation.

Respite can be restorative. When you take a refreshing walk and return revitalized, you have given yourself respite. Sometimes a simple cup of coffee or tea taken alone in a quiet room can shut out the world and its demands and provide peace—respite. You face the world with new aplomb—and a lower heart rate.

Caregivers need respite. The caregiver position, professional or informal, is one of answering to competing demands. Many people have served or will serve as caregivers to a spouse, parent, other relative, or a friend. In fact, most caregiving is provided by family members who have, in addition to their caregiving tasks, responsibilities to jobs, children, spouses, and communities.

If you know a caregiver—or are one yourself—respite can go a long way toward coping rather than allowing the system to break down. This means giving yourself or someone else the precious gift of time—time away from caregiving.

Steven Zarit, is a professor at Penn State University and one of the authors of a joint research study with University of Texas at Austin. The study was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. Zarit et al. said that their research showed that caregivers’ beneficial stress hormone—which combats cortisol (the more harmful stress hormone) —was at higher levels than normal the day after a caregiver’s charge was at an adult day care center. This beneficial stress hormone, known as DHEA-S, reins in the bad effects of stress and contributes to longevity.

When birthdays or other gift occasions occur, why not give a caregiver (yourself, perhaps?) the great gift of time off? Pay for a day of adult day care for the elderly person in the caregiver’s charge. Take on the duties yourself for a few hours if you are not the caregiver. Hire a home health aide or a home care worker for an afternoon or pay for one the friend uses for a few extra hours while you take your friend to a movie.

Caregivers are invariably diligent and may find themselves feeling guilty or worried that money shouldn’t be spent on such things. A caregiver may feel that he or she shouldn’t be engaging in self care when the elderly person is in such need. However, caregiver burnout is a common reality, so money and time spent on refreshing the caregiver is well spent.

If guilt means preventing a conscientious caregiver from taking some time off for respite, the responding argument is that respite makes the caregiver more effective, more rested, and more useful to the person under care. It may result in less time lost to sickness, which Professor Zarit says affects caregivers to a higher than normal degree due to the debilitating burden of caregiving.

Because caregiver burnout can lead to listlessness on the caregiving job and irritability toward the person under care, appeal to the caregiver’s altruism. Persuade him or her to accept respite: the precious gift of time away from it all.



National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA). (March 19, 2014). Adult day services boosts beneficial stress hormones in caregivers. Available online at Retrieved 12/30/2015.

Penn State. (March 24, 2014). Adult day-care services boost beneficial stress hormones in caregivers. Science Daily. Available online at Retrieved January 7, 2016.