There are an estimated 6.5 million people in the UK caring for a relative or friend, with approximately 1.5 million spending over 50 hours each week in their informal care role.
Every carer needs a break from the responsibility of looking after an older relative from time to time and this is where respite care comes in. Many people think of respite care as taking a week off to get away from it all, but theres more to it than that.
Perhaps even more important than an annual holiday are the more frequent breaks from caring. You should aim to get a break from caring at least once a week in order to recharge your batteries.
Find out what help is available
If you have not already had assessments, the best place to start is to contact your local authority to arrange a community care assessment for your relative and a carer's assessment for yourself.
You may be eligible for replacement care by a care worker to be funded by social services, but in some cases you may need to pay for the service. You may want to explore the option of friends or family looking after your relative once or twice a week so that you can get some time to yourself. You and your relative might find it more reassuring to know that he or she will be with someone they know.
Take a break
When you are a carer, taking time off for a complete rest is the only way to avoid burnout, so you should aim to take a short break or holiday now and again.
Your local authority may be able to assist through direct payments which you can then use to pay for a care worker to look after your relative while you take a holiday. Some people prefer to take a holiday with their relative with one of the specialist providers who will look after both you and your relative so that you both get a break.
There are a number of charities which provide support for people in need of respite care. Every year several charities in the UK fund hundreds of holidays for carers. Vitalise is a charity which provides respite breaks and holidays for disabled people and for carers. There are many other charities, some national and some local providing respite care support. Your local authority may be able to provide you with contact details for organisations local to you.
Looking after yourself is essential if you are to continue to look after someone else, so don't see it as a luxury or a self indulgence. Your relative depends on you to stay fit and well, so be sure to do so, for you and for them. Find out more about respite care at the NHS accessing respite care site and the Carers Help Directory.