Vacations can help caregivers get back on track. While small breaks and relief from daily routines are important, they fall short of the revitalizing effect of a longer respite. The result of a vacation is not just getting away; it is a ticket for caregivers to change their focus, interact meaningfully with others and improve their own emotional health.
So to even bring a vacation into the realm of possibilities, caregivers need to let go of self-limiting beliefs. Here are some examples:
"No one can care for them the way I do." While such a belief is probably true, the erroneous implication is that no one can do a good job in caring for your loved one. Having a support caregiver—a back up, and developing trust in them can resolve this practical obstacle. However, it is difficult to cultivate this trust if you retain the idea that you are the only one who can get it right.
"If something happens, I couldn't live with myself." At the core of this concern is an illusion of complete control. The belief is that nothing can go wrong if you are with your loved one. That your vigilance enhances care may hold a degree of truth. But the underlying notion that your presence is the main reason that things are all right creates an exaggerated sense of control or responsibility. Caring for an individual with Alzheimer's disease is dependent on a knowledge base and skill set that many support caregivers have or can learn. No matter how loving, watchful or competent one's care, something can always happen—whether you or someone else is there.
"I can't enjoy myself when they are so sick." It is hard to allow yourself enjoyment when someone you love struggles. The difficulty in overcoming this belief stems from an unrealistic hope that the more you experience their struggle, the more assistance you will be. Your help only comes from positive energy and strength, not shared suffering. Giving yourself permission to enjoy yourself can enhance the care you provide.
"They need me…They will fall apart without me." The overwhelming sense of responsibility is apparent in these statements, but underlying them is an attempt to predict the future. Your loved one is vulnerable, but not necessarily in the way you can foretell. They may be more resilient than you think. In addition, while it is true that they need you, being away for a period of time does not mean that their quality of life will be sacrificed.
Self-limiting beliefs can lead caregivers to shoulder immense feelings of responsibility, self-sacrifice, anxiety, resentment, and guilt. Over an extended period, such feelings can hurt a caregiver's judgment and emotionally contaminate the care environment. Likewise, they are often perceived by the care receiver and begin to complicate the relationship.
A primary caregiver's quality of life and emotional health are pivotal to quality of care; recognizing this is a critical step in reducing guilt about taking a vacation. When caregivers address their own needs, they will be better able to meet their loved one's needs. These escapes can recharge their battery and boost their relationship with their loved one.
Vacations provide an important change in environment. Freedom from routine, fresh encounters, conversations with new people and experiencing the world differently offer an opportunity to continue to grow and participate in life in a role other than that of a devoted caregiver.
After a few vacations, the issues that previously grounded a caregiver will likely become less pronounced and easier to manage. Once caregivers understand the significance of their own well-being, vacations become an important part of a caregiver's life—not an indulgence.
Contributed by Robert W. Figlerski, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and a partner in First Opinion, Ltd., a New York-based consulting firm that provides services to skilled nursing facilities.
For more information, connect with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s licensed social workers. Click here or call 866.232.8484. Real People. Real Care.