When Your Loved One is Respite Resistant

When you’re a caregiver with nothing left to give, arranging for respite care for your loved one, either at home or in a nearby long-term care facility, is a good way to hit the reset button.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. What do you do if your attempts to take a break are met with resistance or outright hostility from your loved one? What happens if the person you're caring for says, "No, I don't want to go anywhere. I don't want anyone else to be here with me. I don't want anybody else in my home."

What do you do if your loved one is resistant to respite?

We posed this question to Jennifer Hand, one of the Elder Care Coordinators at Bratton Law Group, a Life Care Planning Law Firm with offices in the Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia areas. Jennifer sees this problem frequently in her clients, and she offers these tips to caregivers wrestling with respite resistance.

Start Slow

Jennifer acknowledges that introducing a new caregiver (or caregiving team) to an older adult can be a daunting task, especially if dementia is a factor. “New people can make some folks uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s important to start slowly when you’re introducing someone new.”

Reframe the Relationship

In many cases, older adults cannot or will not acknowledge their need for assistance, so introducing a new caregiver as a friend or a neighbor instead of as a caregiver can work. “Let’s say it’s your mom who is resistant to new people,” Jennifer explained. “Instead of saying, ‘This is an aide,’ or, ‘This is a caregiver because I’ve had it with you,’ try saying, ‘Mom, this is a friend. She wanted to pop over for a bit just to check in and see how you're doing and to visit with you.’ Or let’s say it’s your father and he happens to be a veteran. You could find someone with similar experiences who could talk to him about things he might find relatable and enjoyable. Gradually, as your father becomes more used to having that other person in the picture, hopefully, you can increase your time away in small increments.”

Start Early

Don’t wait until you’re at the end of your rope to start planning for respite care. “Introduce a new caregiver sooner rather than later,” Jennifer counseled. “Do it before the burnout happens.”

If the older adult continues to resist your attempts to take a break from caregiving, you may have to put your foot down and make the arrangements anyway. If you don’t make time to take care of yourself, you could end up dying before the person you’re caring for. Research backs this up. A 1999 study found that caregivers have a 63 percent higher mortality rate than non-caregivers, and according to Stanford University, 40 percent of Alzheimer's caregivers die from stress-related disorders before the patient dies. “There are sobering statistics,” Jennifer added. “If something happens to you, your loved one will be forced to accept a new caregiver. Your loved one won’t have any choice in the matter. Dealing with the resistance and arranging for respite care anyway is one of the best ways to ensure that your loved one will have you around for the long term.”