Family caregiver feels guilty about taking a once-in-a-lifetime vacation
"Minding Our Elders" columnist Carol Bradley Bursack says the caregiver to a father with Alzheimer's has more than earned this time away, but their conflicted feelings are understandable.
Dear Carol: My dad was a tireless caregiver to my mom until she died. Sadly, just a couple of years later, he started showing signs of dementia. Since then, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and eventually moved to memory care. They provide excellent, compassionate care, but he’s used to my daily visits. My best friend has an opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation and has asked me to join her. Intellectually, I understand that I should grab this and go. Emotionally, I’m terribly conflicted, so guilt is lowering my expectation of having fun. Do I go anyway? — BC.
Dear BC: One word: go. You’ve more than earned this time away. That said, I understand your feelings.
While I had several older adults dependent, to various degrees, on my care, I had an opportunity to visit a close friend who’d moved across the country. Even though I felt torn and guilty at the time, I went — and yes, I had fun. That trip provided a much-needed break before increased caregiving responsibilities came my way.
You deserve this chance, as well. Depending on your dad’s stage of dementia, he may complain or act fearful when you tell him. That’s normal for someone who feels vulnerable. Still, in his heart, I’ve no doubt that he understands and wants you to do this.
What can you do to help him weather those few days without you? Plan for his needs so that the impact of your brief absence is limited.
- Work with the care staff so that they know about this change in your routine. They may be able to provide a little extra attention. Obviously, you’ll give them contact information for emergencies.
- Reschedule medical appointments for your dad if there is any conflict, and check that his medications are supplied if the facility doesn’t do that (most do).
- Check his supply of special treats, toiletries and clothing so that everything is stocked.
- Leave notes with the staff along with instructions to give him one each day. In those notes, say something sweet, funny or just reassuring. Keep your message brief and happy. You could even do a countdown saying that you’ll be back in five days. Four days. Three days. You get the point.
- Only call your dad if you feel you must. I say this because doing so helps some caregivers relax. For others, it just takes them back into the grind so they may as well have stayed home. Consider the pros and cons carefully.
- Trust that the facility will alert you to anything serious. If you don’t hear from them, assume all is well. The other option is that you could arrange to have a family member check on him daily.
These are just random ideas, BC. You know your dad best. Ask yourself what would help keep him feeling secure and provide what you can.
Once you’re back, you might consider taking a day or two off every week just to help maintain your own health. Something to think about.