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Stroke Smart Magazine

March/April 2007

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It's OK to Take a Break

By Lynn Bronikowski

After her husband's stroke, Leah Ann Price used to call home from work several times a day to check on him, growing nervous if he didn't answer right away. Ed, a cabinet installer in Council Bluffs, Iowa, had a stroke at age 54. His wife became his primary caregiver.

“It can be very stressful,” said Leah Ann. “His balance is off. It is difficult to leave him alone.”

But since turning to Faith in Action, a national volunteer outreach program that offers respite care and support to chronically-ill people and their caregivers, Leah Ann does not worry as much. “It's been a blessing,” she said.

The Prices are among a growing number of family caregivers who are turning to respite-care programs for support.

“Respite care is an opportunity for family members to take a break and put their loved one under the care of someone who will give them the same attention that they would,” said Kristine Cichowski, director of the LIFE Center of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. “It allows the caregiver to take a breather, for a couple of hours, days or even a week.”

The cost of respite care can range from token fees for volunteer programs to $80-$150 an hour, said Cichowski. Or, it can simply be a family friend stopping by for an hour or two a week. The caregiver doesn't have to be a registered nurse or medically trained. High school students, church groups and senior citizens can offer respite care.

“It's critical for caregivers to take a break because you're only as good to your loved one as you are to yourself,” said Cichowski, who turned to respite care in 1999 when her father had a stroke. “I had four kids at home and some of my help even came from strangers. People want to help, they just don't know how. It's OK to ask.”

She recommends starting out small — having a friend stop by for coffee and talk to the stroke survivor. It's important that the caregiver be there for the first visit or two to help build the relationship and get conversations rolling.

Getting the stroke survivor involved in support groups or classes is another form of respite care, said Cichowski. While the survivor is in class, the caregiver can take a break.

“An underlying theme is people contact, which is particularly important for stroke survivors who can feel isolated,” said Cichowski. “So the more you broaden your support network the better.”


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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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