What is Respite Care?

Respite Care for Seniors

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Being a caregiver is important and worthwhile, but it's also exhausting. If you're feeling burnt out, or perhaps just wish you had a day off every so often, then it may be time to consider respite care. Respite care is temporary relief available to caregivers that takes place inside or out of the home. Below, we'll cover respite care in-depth, breaking down the different types, the cost, and how to decide if you need it.

What Is Respite Care?

Respite care exists to give primary caregivers like you a temporary break from your duties. It might be a couple of hours a day, once a week, a few times a month, or for entire weeks while you take a much-needed vacation. Seniors can receive respite care in their home, at an adult day center, or in a healthcare facility.1

Family caregivers are dedicated to making their loved one's lives easier, safer, and more enjoyable, often at the expense of their own personal care, mental health, career, and social relationships. The goal of respite care is to prevent caregiver burnout so that you can continue caring for your mom, dad, or other loved one in a healthy way.


What Services Does Respite Care Provide?

Respite care providers offer several services, all designed to keep your loved one safe and comfortable while you're taking care of yourself. It can include as much or as little care as needed at various times of the day and as frequently as desired. This flexibility helps caregivers maintain the best level of care for their loved one without sacrificing their own mental health.

Common respite care services offered include:

  • Help with activities of daily living (ADLs) like bathing, grooming, and dressing
  • Meal prep and assistance eating and drinking
  • Medication management
  • Basic medical assistance
  • Transportation
  • Companionship

The Different Types of Respite Care

In-Home Respite Care

You might be wondering if respite care can be done at home, and the answer is yes! A home health agency, volunteer, or trusted relative or friend can provide in-home respite care services. The frequency depends entirely on the needs of the senior and the primary caregiver. Sometimes it's overnight, during the week while you work, or just for a few hours here and there.

In-home respite care services and providers include:

  • Personal care: Help with ADLs like dressing, grooming, bathing, toileting, and feeding.
  • Homemaker services: Meal prep, shopping, transportation, housekeeping, and basic home maintenance.
  • Home health aides or private duty nurses: Monitor vital signs, administer medications, and assist with mobility and lateral transfers.
  • Companions: Spend time with your loved one.

Out-of-Home Respite Care

Also called group respite care, out-of-home respite care gives your loved one a chance to get out of the house. It's a great option if you're a live-in caregiver so that you truly get a break. It also gives your loved one a chance to socialize with peers, which has more benefits than you may realize. Older adults with active social lives may experience slower memory decline rates2 and report feeling happier than their peers.3

Options for out-of-home respite care include:

  • Residential Respite Care: Temporary overnight care that takes place in assisted living communities, memory care facilities, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, or group homes based on the level of care your loved one requires.
  • Adult Day Care Programs: Centers or programs designed for seniors who are no longer independent but would benefit from daily supervision, socialization, games, educational activities, and meals.

Which Type of Respite Care Is Right for My Loved One?

You might already have a preference for one of the care options we've shared. You might also see how each option could be beneficial at different times. Below is a list of which types of seniors benefit most from each type of care to help you decide.

In-Home Respite Care is Best For Seniors Who… Out-of-Home Respite Care is Best for Seniors Who…
  • Feel most comfortable in their own home
  • Have limited mobility
  • Are easily disoriented by new surroundings
  • Want one-on-one care
  • Share a living space with their caregiver
  • Feel isolated, depressed, or lonely
  • Need a place to stay during a home remodel
  • Enjoy group activities
  • Want to save money with adult day programs

Specialized Respite Care

If your loved one has a disease, such as Alzheimer's or cancer, or is recovering from a stroke, there are options for respite care tailored specifically to their needs. We'll take a closer look below.

Respite Care for Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease

Taking care of someone with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia 24-hours per day, seven days per week, is draining. Regardless of the level of advancement of the disease, respite care benefits both the patient and the family.

In-home or a short stay in a care facility are both viable options for respite care for people with Alzheimer's or dementia. There are day programs that provide a safe and secure location in a controlled environment. The same level of care is available for in-home respite care. Care can come from a home care provider with licensed nursing services or home care workers, such as a home health aide. Shift times can vary too and are arranged to fit the family's schedule.

Respite Care for Strokes

The needs of a stroke patient are somewhat specialized. They often require additional help with mobility, such as transferring from the bed to a wheelchair or from a chair to the shower. This care occurs on a 24-hour basis. Some stroke patients also have therapy and exercise as part of their treatment and care. Respite care for stroke patients can vary in intensity and range from mild to very goal-oriented. The difference depends on the patient and the severity of their stroke. For most seniors who have had a stroke and are not institutionalized, you can find specialized respite care from caregivers through a home care provider.

Respite Care for Cancer

Like other forms of respite care, the routine should include a plan of care that addresses the patient's needs. Cancer is a very large family of diseases, and each patient’s care should be specific to their condition. Care of the cancer patient and family is not always just physical, as it can be emotional and mental too. Issues like grief and anger are common. As such, specialized and trained professionals make the best respite providers for those with cancer.

Do I Need Respite Care?

We believe that most caregivers would benefit from respite care, whether it's for a few hours or a few weeks. If you're still unsure, consider the following questions:

  • When was the last time you took a vacation?
  • Do you experience feelings of depression, anxiety, or anger frequently?
  • How often do you spend quality time with your significant other or friends?
  • Are you struggling to keep your own household running?
  • Do you and the person you're caring for often butt heads?
  • Is caregiving interfering with your career?
  • Is your health declining?
  • How much sleep do you get?
  • When is the last time your loved one spent time with their peers or even just time out of the house?
  • Do you put your loved one's needs ahead of your own? Ahead of your children's?
  • Are there activities you stopped participating in or hobbies you let go of when you became a primary caregiver?

If you are tired and overwhelmed, you may need help. You may feel frustrated or unable to provide the highest level of care to your loved one. You may begin to feel like you are giving up too much of your life to meet the needs of your loved one. Or, you may simply recognize that you need a day off for yourself. Whether your needs are immediate due to another obligation or the stresses of daily life, it is always a good idea to seek out respite care whenever it's available. Remember, respite care is not a luxury, and it's not something you need to earn. It's something that can help you better take care of yourself and your loved ones.

How Often Do I Need Respite Care?

So how often do you need respite care? Start by analyzing both your needs and those of your loved one. Make a weekly diary listing the times and things you most need help with. Do you need free time? Help with transportation? What are your loved one’s requirements? Medication management? Mental stimulation? Assistance with eating, walking, and dressing?

Next, consider your schedule and any activities or hobbies you want to make time for. Maybe you want to rejoin the bowling league on Monday nights and need Sundays off to spend more time with your kids. Or, perhaps you want to transition back to full-time work, so you need care during the day for your mom or dad. Perhaps, you just want two weeks off in the summer to take a vacation.

Whatever it is you need, talk to your loved one and other family members so that together, you can figure out a respite care plan. Find out what your mom or dad is comfortable with. See if there are nights where one of your siblings can take over as a caregiver. Knowing what everyone thinks and how they can contribute will help with making decisions about care and cost.

How Much Does Respite Care Cost?

Since you can use respite care services as little or as often as you'd like, your actual costs for respite care will vary. Let's take a look at the national median costs to give you an idea of what to expect and how at-home costs compare to out-of-home costs.

The Genworth Cost of Care Survey on National Median Costs of Long-Term Care Services in 2020 found the following national medians.4

Type of Care Cost Per Hour Cost Per Day Cost Per Month
Homemaker Services (In-Home) $23.50 $147 $4,481
Home Health Aid (In-Home) $24.00 $150 $4,576
Adult Day Health Care N/A $74 $1,603
Assisted Living Facility N/A $141 $4,300

Many people use respite care as an “on and off” situation. You may not need help all of the time. For example, if you just need a day off every other week, you only pay for that time. Service providers – whether those working with a company or those working alone – vary in cost based on the amount of time worked.

Some families pay nothing for respite care because the caregiver stepping in to provide relief is another relative or trusted friend. As you navigate your many respite care options, consider people inside your circle or your loved one's circle who could step up and help out.

Paying for Respite Care

When figuring out how to pay for respite care, start with free or reduced-cost options. First, look into local volunteer organizations. Can a church or civic group provide volunteers? What about the local college? Are there students who need class credit for these types of services? How about nursing students? Are there any family members with extra time on their hands? Next, take a look at respite care coverage options:

  • Insurance usually only covers respite care if the care providers are licensed medical professionals such as nurses, dietitians, or other specialists. A long-term care policy usually pays for some services.
  • VA Benefits pay for up to 30 days a year for those who qualify.
  • SSI disability recipients may be eligible for benefits.
  • Medicare pays for up to five days of inpatient respite care at a time on an occasional basis.
  • Medicaid does not pay directly for respite care, but some states have waivers to offset some of the costs.
  • State Agencies have funds that help qualified family members receive payment for respite services.

How Long Can You Have Respite Care?

There isn't any hard and fast rule about how long you can use respite care services. Generally, overnight stays in a short-term assisted living facility or residential respite care facility last up to a few weeks. This gives caregivers time to spend with their family, go on vacation, take care of their own house, or make needed modifications to their loved one's home.

Caregivers can use home care services or adult day programs for as long as needed. Maybe you need full-time respite care for a few weeks while you take a long break. Or, you pay for care as needed each month to fill in the gaps when you're not available or need time for yourself.

For many families, price is an obstacle that affects how often and for how long they use respite care services. Talking to your other family members, reviewing your loved one's finances, and speaking with attorneys or insurance agents can help you figure out your options,5 make a budget, and find affordable senior care in your area.

What Is the Difference Between Hospice and Respite Care?

With so many types of senior care out there, it's easy to get confused. Let's take a look at the difference between hospice care and respite care, as these two types of care are often confused.

Hospice care, also called “comfort care,” is end-of-life care suitable for those with a terminal medical condition who have stopped seeking treatment or have a prognosis of six months or fewer.

The goal of hospice care is to maximize someone's quality of life as they near the end of their life. It involves pain management rather than treatment or medical intervention. Most often, hospice care takes place inside the person's home so they can spend time with family and be in a familiar setting.

Respite care is a more generalized type of senior care that gives primary caregivers a temporary reprieve from their caregiving duties. It's not restricted to end-of-life care, but sometimes respite care is needed while a senior is on hospice.

Medicare defines four levels of hospice care, with the fourth being respite care.6 Respite care in this situation (as defined by Medicare) means seniors on hospice can move into a Medicare-approved facility for up to five days of inpatient respite care. This gives the usual caregiver time to regroup.

Why Respite Care Is Important

Caregiving is a rewarding experience, but it's also overwhelming. It can take a toll on your body and wellbeing too. Caregivers experience higher levels of stress, depression, and anxiety than those who aren't caregivers.7 It doesn't have to be that way, though.

Respite care temporarily relieves you from your caregiver responsibilities so that you aren't on call 24/7. If any part of you feels guilty about entrusting someone else with your loved one's care, know this. Evidence shows that seniors are in better hands when their caregivers take advantage of support services (like respite care), which improve caregiver anxiety, depression, and anger.8 In other words, by using respite care, you're able to be the best caregiver you can be.

Is There Senior Respite Care Near Me?

There are a variety of respite care facilities and services in most areas. Many times, insurance companies and medical health providers can offer recommendations for these services.

Most areas will have a wide range of respite services available to patients. Take the time to get to know these organizations and the individuals who will be providing care for your loved one. You need to feel confident in the type and level of service they can offer to you. The more information and guidance you receive from these individuals, the better. Respite care services are available as an emergency situation or as a long-term, planned event in most areas. This can give you the support you need no matter the circumstances.

Written By

Taylor Shuman

Senior Tech Expert & Editor

For over five years, Taylor has been writing, editing, and researching products and services covering topics such as senior care and technology, Internet and the digital divide, TV, and entertainment, and education. Her research on media consumption and consumer behavior has been… Learn More About Taylor Shuman

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  1. National Institute on Aging. (2021). What Is Respite Care?

  2. Gallup. (2021). U.S. Seniors Maintain Happiness Highs With Less Social Time.

  3. Harvard. (2008). Active social life may delay memory loss among U.S. elderly population.

  4. Genworth. (2021). Cost of Care Survey.

  5. AARP. (2019). Time Off for Family Caregivers Can Be Invaluable.

  6. Medicare.gov. (2021). Hospice Care.

  7. National Institute on Aging. (2017). What is Respite Care?

  8. Family Caregiver Alliance. (2021). Caregiving.