Give Me a Break

Another option is respite care. This can give you a short-term break, while your loved one receives appropriate care in a safe and supervised environment. “Using respite services can support and strengthen your ability to be a caregiver,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association of America.

Family, friends, volunteers or paid caregivers can provide respite care at home, or you might opt for an adult day care or residential facility with professional staff. Day care encompasses planned activities like games, music or art and often includes meals. Some centers provide transportation services.

Residential facilities provide longer term respite care – a few days to a few weeks. It can allow you time for a much-needed vacation, to attend an out of town event or meeting, or to just enjoy some downtime to recharge your batteries. Cost varies, and is usually paid out of pocket.

When evaluating respite facilities, look for one with a memory care unit and whose staff are trained to care for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, advises Carol Levine, Director of the United Hospital Fund’s Families and Health Care Project. “Make sure the people are really skilled in providing appropriate care.”

Certification and training are key when evaluating home care agencies, says Barbara Glickstein, a New York public health nurse who helps care for her 90-year-old mother. Ask whether caregivers receive continuing education, including behavioral health, and are familiar with handling a range of emotions and situations.

“Those with Alzheimer’s require a different level of care than those without the disease. It’s important that caregivers — whoever they are — understand these differences and how to relate to them,” she says.

6 Questions to Ask an Agency

First, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable organization, then ask:

  • Who are their community and professional partners?
  • Are caregivers licensed and is the agency Medicare certified? That means they meet minimum federal standards for patient care and management.
  • Are their caregivers employees or contractors? Caregivers can almost never be contractors for an agency, says Sarafin, so if that’s their setup, it’s likely they’re cutting corners elsewhere, perhaps on training, support, or quality.
  • Ask about caregiver training — is dementia-specific training provided? Caregivers should have this skill set as well as the emotional wherewithal to care for somne with Alzheimer’s.
  • What are the agency’s professional processes – such as quality assurance, continuing education and customer satisfaction?
  • Will your calls be answered 24/7? You need to know that if issues arise after hours or on the weekend, someone can respond.

Don’t base your decision on cost alone. An agency that’s a dollar an hour less than another may wind up costing more in the long run if you have to miss work because the caregiver doesn’t arrive or have backups in place in case of emergency.

Also make sure you understand exactly what services agency will and won’t provide according to state law. While families can provide any care for a family member, professionals must abide by state law.

And of course, get a list of references and find out how they conduct their screening and background checks.

“Be diligent and vigilant just like you would be with any other health care decision,” says Sarafan. Don’t get locked into a long-term contract, she advises. If you’re not happy with the provider you could be on the hook for thousands of dollars.


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Liz Seegert

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