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Respite for caregivers

There are several facilities that provide respite to the caregiver of a person with mental illness

Sudha works as a business development executive at a corporate firm. As part of her work, she has to travel a lot. Sudha's mother has been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Sudha is in a fix as to who will take care of her mother when she is traveling on work.

Taking care of a person with a mental illness is a challenging task for the caregivers. And when it comes to caring for someone with a degenerative disorder like Alzheimer's, it becomes stressful for the caregiver after a while and it may even result in a burnout.

The role of the family is significant in helping the person with the mental illness lead a life of normalcy. However, if the caregiver is looking for a temporary respite or needs to take a break from caregiving due to professional or personal reasons, they have various options available for them. Respite care facilities, as they are called, essentially give respite to the caregivers to pursue their job or any other work.

Respite care facilities consist of two types: Residential care and Non-residential care. The decision to choose a setting depends on the intensity of the illness and the level of functioning apart from other factors such as socio-economic status, availability of a service etc. If the illness is severe and affects the person's ability to take care of their personal hygiene and perform their daily routine activities, then a residential setting can be opted. If the person is able to perform their daily chores, but would like to learn a vocation or develop a work habit, then a non-residential setting can be considered.

Residential care:In these kind of facilities, the person with an illness stays in a residential set-up for a specific period of time. They are provided food and accommodation, along with regular medical check-ups and rehabilitation. Different facilities are available based on the need and requirement of the person and their family.

Residential care facilities can either be:

  • Halfway homes: when the person with an illness has received treatment and recovered from an acute stage, but needs intervention to develop skills of daily living, social and interactive skills and vocational skills. The person resides at the setup for a minimum of six months.

  • Quarter way homes: when the person with an acute illness resides at the set up for a minimum of three months.

The halfway/quarter way homes are equipped with teams that include doctors, psychologists, psychiatric social workers and psychiatric nurses. They are also equipped to deal with medical emergencies, if any.

How do halfway/quarterway homes work?

Once the set up is chosen, the person with the illness usually gets to stay for a brief period of time. This is called as trial period stay. This is provided so that the person with the illness gets acquainted with the place. If the person feels comfortable and the family approves, then they are registered for admission.

What do they do at a halfway/quarter way home?

People with a severe mental illness may face several problems; they may not be able to perform the basic skills of performing their routine chores like brushing, bathing etc. because of the illness. They would also require constant medical care and supervision.

The halfway homes have daily schedules for each person which involves training in daily chores such as washing clothes, keeping their room clean, personal hygiene etc. This way, the person is kept engaged in an activity. The schedule also involves indoor and outdoor games, hobbies such as art and craft etc.

Non-residential care: If the person with a mental illness is recovering and they are able to perform their day to day tasks, then a non-residential setup can be considered. Here the focus would be on activities that help improve the existing skills of the person.

Non-residential care consists of daycare centers, where the person with an illness can come in the morning, take part in the activities at the daycare and return to their family in the evening. The activities conducted here include games, puzzles, social skills and life skills training, alternative therapies like art therapy, movement therapy, yoga and music therapy; vocational therapies such as candle making, tailoring, printing, basket weaving, baking and computer training. The person can participate in any of these activities according to their skills and interest.

Role of family

As in psychiatric rehabilitation, the role of the family continues to be important when the person is under residential or non-residential care setting. Sometimes, the person with the illness can show improvement in a residential setting and when they return to their family after a given period of rehabilitation, they may show a decline in their functioning. Therefore, it is important for the family members to work alongside the professionals so that the home environment is conducive to the person and does not trigger any further decline in their functioning.

How to look for a respite care setup?

The first place for a caregiver to look for respite care is within their circle of friends and family to know if anyone is willing to share the caregiving duties. If that is not possible, one can approach the treating psychiatrist or any mental health professional available near them and seek information about the various facilities available.