For Families of the Ailing, a Brief Chance to Relax

Mildred and John Fischer thought their retirement years would be a time for traveling and visiting their grandchildren. Then last September, just as Mr. Fischer was retiring as a postal carrier, Mrs. Fischer’s mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, came to live with them.

While friends and neighbors enjoyed carefree time, Mrs. Fischer said she felt that her world was closing in on her. She could sense her heart palpitating from the constant stress. It got so bad one day, she said, “I needed to go down to the basement and just sit.”

Finally, with some feelings of guilt, the Fischers did what most other people in their position never try: they got away, leaving Mrs. Fischer’s mother, Mildred Gordon, for the weekend at a new nine-bed “respite care” center here. It is a measure of health care aimed not at the sick or frail person, but at the exhausted spouse, child or friend.

While nurses cared for her mother in a small unit designed to resemble a European village, the Fischers traveled to Green Bay, Wis., with their grandchildren for a few days of unencumbered time together. “I didn’t know what respite was,” Mrs. Fischer, 63, said. “But we really need it.”

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