We know that respite care can provide a necessary break for family caregivers. However, most family caregivers may think of respite care as a week-long stay for their aging parent or loved one at a nearby senior community. Most often, we think of respite care as a sleep-over stay that requires pre-planning, scheduling, reservations, packing, and securing medications well in advance of the respite break. Effective respite care can come in small doses such as a weekly day-long stay at a qualified neighborhood adult day care center and a recent study confirms that weekly respite care is beneficial for the family caregiver.
Published online in February, 2014 on the website of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, the study boasts the unwieldy title “Daily Stressors and Adult Day Service Use by Family Caregivers: Effects on Depressive Symptoms, Positive Mood, and Dehydroepiandrosterone-Sulfate.” In plain English, that title explains that the scientists looked at family caregivers to see whether there was a change in caregiver stress indicators when patients with dementia received adult day service care. The study was conducted by scientists at Penn State University and the University of Texas at Austin and was funded by the National Institute on Aging. It looked at 151 family members caring for relatives with dementia; in each case, the relative attended adult day services at least twice a week. From these caregivers, researchers collected multiple saliva samples each day for eight consecutive days. In addition, researchers interviewed the caregivers daily and asked questions regarding how stressed the caregivers were feeling.
The results of the study confirmed that the stress triggers that were related to caregiving matters were significantly lower on days when the relative attended adult day services outside the home. This is not surprising, of course. What may be more significant is that the saliva samples indicated that levels of a hormone called DHEA-S were higher after days when adult services were used. This is important because high levels of DHEA-S are associated with better long-term health outcomes. It’s assumed that higher DHEA-S levels can translate into better overall health for the caregiver, which is especially important for individuals in long-term caregiving situations. This confirms the information that caregivers should look further into adult care for only one day per week – or, when possible, for multiple days. Getting a “breather” definitely has short term benefits; this study suggests that using adult day services more frequently can have long range benefits as well.
If adult day care services are not available in your area, consider hiring a service that provides training caregivers who can provide respite care for a few hours a day or two per week.