Respite care takes top billing among the many challenges facing family caregivers. Most caregivers take on the responsibility of caregiving without considering the need of respite care as an ongoing necessity. While some can afford to pay out of pocket for help, many can’t. Low-income caregivers often qualify for assistance from subsidized programs if they’re available. However, that still leaves many caregivers without the financial means to pay for the respite care they need.

If you’re a caregiver who experiences constant frustration and a sense of hopelessness about finding respite care, you’re certainly not alone. However, part of the answer to this problem may be within your grasp — if you’re willing to take steps and ask for the help you need. Before you dismiss asking for help a waste of time and energy, give yourself the benefit of altering your perceptions and read on.


Yes — asking for help is difficult. You’re probably not used to doing it, most of us aren’t. It takes practice. It also takes something else — the freedom to ask. Here’s the rub. Many of us weren’t brought up to ask for what we need. You may have little or no experience in asking others to help you. Again, you’re not alone. If you examine what feelings and attitudes that prevent you from asking for help, you may find yourself feeling one or more of these common responses:

The fear of being “selfish”

“Feeling guilty”

Experiencing a sense of shame

The problem of asking for help isn’t in the asking — it’s in minimizing or overcoming the obstacles that prevent us from asking. Let’s make this the starting point and examine how a shift in thinking and perception can free you to ask for the help you need. The following four exercises are valuable because when faced with changes that “tweak” our comfort zone, most of us resist and freeze up. Remember — telling yourself the reasons why you can’t change, rather than how you can, insures continued frustration accompanied by a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. These exercises will help you shift your perceptions about asking for help.


Accepting and respecting the fact that you need respite care is the first step in asking for the help you need. The decision to ask for help increases rather than decreases your self-esteem because it acknowledges your need. This is a good thing. Not acknowledging your needs, or pretending you don’t have them, protects you from asking for help. If you have rationalized your decision not to ask for help by convincing yourself that you don’t need it–that others are too busy — that you’re just going to get a “no” anyway, so why bother — you’re not respecting yourself. What has this cost you in terms of your quality of life? Respect your decision to ask for help. Don’t say, “I don’t care,” or “It doesn’t matter,” when you do care and it does matter.


Shame can prevent you from asking others for help. To examine how shame affects you, complete the following sentence: “I feel ashamed when…” Repeat this sentence and list your shameful feelings. It’s tough, but be honest with yourself. Using the following scale, rate each sentence according to how often you experience the feeling it expresses:

A – Sometimes

B – Almost always

C – Always

Total the number of sentences in each category. The result indicates the degree to which shameful feelings drain and rob you of energy and the freedom to ask for the help you need.


Beware of “should thinking.” “Shoulds” not only diminish your responsibility to make choices, they also reinforce a sense of unworthiness. Use the phrase “I want” rather than “I should.” This will help you release internal pressure and explore options to get the help you need. When you say “I want”, you affirm a positive sense of yourself and your practice of self-care. You are worthy of having the help you need.


Changing old patterns makes most of us up uptight. A relaxed mind will help you focus on your goal to ask for help. Get comfortable, close your eyes and take slow deep breaths. Allow your body to relax. Open your eyes and choose an object to look at — a pencil, a rock, a book, whatever you choose. Now really look at it. Slowly examine its composition, color, shape and texture. You can decide to look at more than one object — just do this very slowly for a period of two or three minutes. When you stop you will experience a relaxed mind. This happens because your mind clears as you shift and refocus your attention.


When you’re ready to ask for help, talk with family members first. It doesn’t matter if they live a mile away or 1000 miles away. The point is to make them aware that you need help and you’re looking for their ideas and input. No idea is a bad one. When you’re willing to express your needs and talk with your family, you allow them to put forward their best effort in helping you and your care recipient. Families can be very creative and inventive. You could miss out on some good solutions if you exclude them. The following are a couple examples of what some families came up with to help their parent caregivers.

After one woman asked for help, her four adult married children decided they would each contribute $10.00 a week toward respite care help for their mother. The teens who held jobs volunteered to help and another $5.00 a week from each working adolescent was added to the pot. Every month over $220 was collected for respite care. This was $2640 a year more than what their mother had before she talked with her family. She not only felt supported by the response of her children and grandchildren, she also experienced a genuine sense of connection that helped minimize her sense of isolation. The children and grandchildren felt they shared equally in providing help. This family created a win-win situation for everyone.

Another family living within a 30 mile radius of their parents, volunteered four eight hour days per calendar year to help their father. The caregiver parent decided what increments of time he wanted and one of his children took responsibility for working out a monthly schedule with all the other siblings. Each month this caregiver received eight hours of respite care — eight hours more than what the he had before he asked.

Both examples illustrate that asking for help from family can result in receiving it. It isn’t the perfect solution and in many situations, it isn’t enough time, but it’s a solution that worked for these families — and it’s better than nothing at all. In both cases, the parent was willing to ask and the children responded by making equal contributions of money or time. This, in part, may be the key to each family’s success.


It’s also possible to look beyond your family. Most churches and synagogues today have a family life, social justice or faith in service action committee. Oftentimes these groups are willing to help when they receive direct requests. Just because a “program” isn’t already in place doesn’t mean a need can’t be met. Many people respond well when they’re directly approached for help. Get the name of the appropriate contact person and telephone them. Let them know who you are and what you’re requesting. Give them the opportunity to fulfill your request or network on your behalf.

Talk with people you know and let them know you’re looking for volunteer help. People get jobs and business through networking because it works. When you begin to think of your family and people you know as a resource network, you broaden your scope and open the door for options you may have not know about or even considered.

Another option for respite care comes from other senior citizens who volunteer their time and talents at over 100 Shepard’s Centers around the United States. This is a free service in some areas. I e-mailed them about their services and received the following response: “Shepherd’s Centers in some areas provide volunteers to help on a part time basis with respite care. Centers in some areas provide volunteers to help on a part time basis with respite care. The volunteers are other older adults. In addition, some centers help with yard work, small home repair projects, and grocery shopping. Check out our web site at for some of our local center activities. When we receive calls from areas not presently serviced by a local center we refer them to the eldercare locater, AARP, or their local United Way office.”

Getting the respite care you need is an ongoing process. If you say nothing and don’t ask for help, you probably won’t get it. If you dare to ask for help, you’re taking positive action on your own behalf, making your respite care the priority it deserves to be and allowing your family, friends and neighbors to help. You have choices. Dare to ask for help — develop your skills, give yourself permission to ask. It takes practice — you can do it!

2001 Pauline Salvucci


  • Pauline Salvucci, M.A., is a former medical family therapist, a personal coach, founder and President of Self Care Connection, LLC and author of the Self-Care Now! booklet series. Her specialty is coaching men and women at midlife -- particularly those living with chronic health conditions and family caregivers who are "sandwiched" between their families and their aging parents.