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Vacation Tips for Caregivers

By Matt Cavallo
Caregivers are unsung heroes. The sacrifice the caregiver makes for a loved one living with MS is substantial. For example, my wife who has no medical background has had to help with my healthcare during the course of my disease process. She has injected me with both subcutaneous and intramuscular needles, changed IV medications and flushed the lines, helped me with bathing, toileting, grooming and dressing tasks, and helped transfer me from the bed to the bathroom.

She has done so without asking or expecting any kind of recognition. At the same time when most people our age were starting out in life, she was trying to hold ours together through multiple hospitalizations, doctors’ appointments, medical testing and MS exacerbations that rendered me home bound.

While she seeks no recognition, she deserves it. Caregiving is a full-time job without vacation benefits. However, time off from caregiving can be an important benefit for both the caregiver and the MS patient. Here are some tips on how to get caregivers the vacation they deserve.
  • Convince the caregiver they need a vacation. Caregiving is a selfless act. It can be hard to convince the caregiver that they need a break. However, there is a phenomena called caregiver burnout. WebMD defines caregiver burnout as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude – from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Even though the stress accompanied with caregiver burnout can affect the health of the caregiver, they are often unwilling to spend time or money on themselves.
  • Schedule a backup caregiver. To get the caregiver a much needed vacation, look to a family member or friend who has the ability to assume the caregiver role as a backup. This may require more than one person. If there are no friends or family members available to assist, there are home health options that can send trained professionals to care for your loved one in your absence.
  • Train the caregiver workflow. Many caregivers are resistant to hand the responsibility over to a backup caregiver. For the caregiver, it is critical to create a list of daily tasks, medications and other items that they do on a daily basis for their loved one. Along with this list, create the times where these activities happen. This creates a caregiver workflow which ensures that each task gets accomplished when it is supposed to. This will make the caregiver and the patient feel confident that there will not be a lapse in care, so that the caregiver can enjoy their vacation without worrying.
  • Checking in. Whether the vacation is local or out-of-state, the caregiver must establish some means of checking in. If the MS patient is nonverbal, the backup caregiver must have means of communication to keep the caregiver’s mind at ease during the vacation. The frequency and mode of communication should be established ahead of the vacation, so that the caregiver can have that added peace of mind.
  • Enjoy. Finally, the caregiver needs to be able to enjoy their vacation without feeling selfish or guilty.

Convincing the caregiver that time off is needed to avoid caregiver burnout and feel relaxed and renewed can be very difficult. You may have to start with baby steps. Maybe instead of a multiple day vacation, the caregiver could take a night off. Or something as easy as a dinner outside of the house. Once the caregiver can build that confidence, then they can enjoy their time off to recharge their battery which will enable them to continue providing excellent care to their loved one.

Caregivers are truly heroes in the lives of those living with MS. While caregivers are selfless, constantly caring for a loved one with no vacation can lead to caregiver burnout. This burnout can affect the patient caregiver relationship in a negative way. A caregiver can avoid burnout by taking a vacation. This can be as simple as a night off, but it will help recharge the battery.

Convincing a caregiver they need a break can be difficult. Scheduling and training a backup caregiver and establishing a check in schedule can ease the caregiver’s mind, so they can relax and enjoy the time off. Once they have recharged the battery, they will be recharged to continue providing the excellent care to their loved one.