Respite care is temporary support for families who care for a loved one. Some services offer in-home caregiver visits while others offer stays at assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Respite care stays vary in length, from an afternoon to several weeks. By using respite care services, caregivers can have more time to tend to their own commitments and priorities.
Benefits of respite care
Caregivers and their loved ones can equally benefit from respite care. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, roughly 29% of Americans care for a family member and many experience psychological, physiological, and financial stress due to their responsibilities.
Those experiencing caregiver stress may feel exhausted or unmotivated and may make mistakes — such as giving their family member the wrong medication. For this reason, the United States government passed the Lifespan Care Act of 2006, which extended better options for respite care families across all 50 states. Now, thousands of caregivers and their loved ones can experience the benefits of respite care firsthand.
Respite care benefits for primary caregivers
Respite care can give carers an opportunity to have a personal life while maintaining an important role in their family member’s routine. By seeking respite care for their loved ones, primary caregivers can have time to focus on themselves as individuals. These benefits include:
- Renewed energy and motivation toward caregiving
- Rest for their bodies and minds, giving them time to enjoy their personal life
- Reduced risk of friction or distance in the relationship
- Space to help the carer return to caregiving with a new outlook and higher spirits
- Time to achieve personal and professional goals
Above all, respite care can give you peace of mind about your family member while you’re taking a break from your duties as a primary caregiver. Whether you’re going to work or taking a vacation, knowing that your loved one is in capable hands can put your mind at rest while you tend to your personal needs.
Short-term benefits from a respite care program the person being cared for as much as it helps their caregiver. As your family member becomes more dependent on you to go about their daily activities, they may become disconnected from the community. Just as it’s important for you to spend time with your community outside of caregiving, it’s important for seniors to socialize and experience the company of others. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, for dementia patients that have trouble adapting to a new environment, regular respite stays can have a major benefit to the care recipient.
For caregivers with careers, daily respite care at an adult day center can provide their family member with a chance to meet others and be part of a community. Adult day centers offer crafts and activities for their members to partake in, which will stimulate your loved one and keep them occupied. Alternatively, you may choose to work with an in-home personal care assistant or companion, who will also socialize with your loved one and create activities to energize their mind.
By socializing regularly and partaking in hobbies and activities, your family member will have an easier time coping with their need for regular care. Respite care can revitalize their mind, and give them a new perspective on their situation.
When respite care is the right choice
It’s important for caregivers to seek respite care before the effects of stress and exhaustion begin to take their toll. If you feel as though the responsibilities of caregiving are standing in the way of your other priorities, take a look at respite care services near you to get an idea of which options are available to your family member. The sooner you identify your need for a break, the lesser the impact of caregiver stress will have on your wellbeing.
It’s equally important to identify your family member’s needs for alternative care. Many doctors recommend their patients spend time at a Nursing Home or other adult community following medical attention. They want their patients to be under the watchful eye of trained professionals to ensure they are getting the right medications, meals, and assistance with the responsibilities of daily life. This offers them the help they need day and night to properly recover from their illness or injury.
Some families opt to use respite care as a trial run for a live-in care service. As their loved one becomes more dependent on care, caregivers may consider moving them to a facility for full-time care, but may feel nervous about they will handle the change. Many assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and in-home health care professionals offer short-term care options for residents to trial their services, so they can feel comfortable about the shift.
Choosing respite care
Respite care is not “one-size-fits-all.” Different services and communities offer varying types of respite care, giving you the option to choose whichever suits your family best. The right type of respite care for you will depend on how long you need it, your finances, and the services your loved one needs during their stay.
Types of respite care
In-home respite care
In-home respite care is a popular choice for individuals who maintain some independence, but
Many families choose in-home care because it causes fewer upsets to the care receiver’s daily routine. There is no inconvenience of transportation, and their loved one doesn’t have to stress about leaving home.
In-home respite care services typically fall into one of four categories:
- Skilled home health care professionals are the most highly trained in-home care providers. You may consider a skilled home health care professional if your resident needs help:
- Dressing wounds
- Performing injections
- Monitoring unstable health or serious illness
- Recovering from surgery
A doctor’s recommendation is necessary to hire a home health care service, and they typically serve as an alternative to a skilled nursing facility.
- Personal care assistants supervise the care receiver’s day-to-day activities and assists when necessary. Families typically choose this type of care for those who can manage some responsibilities independently but need assistance with others.
A Personal care assistant will generally help their client with:
- Personal hygiene (showering, shaving, grooming, going to the bathroom)
- Preparing meals
- Doing Laundry
- Cleaning the home
Personal care assistants share similar responsibilities with other types of in-home care providers, but they are more highly trained in many cases. A personal care assistant must be CNA certified in their state, meaning they are trained to assist with a broader range of situations than some other in-home care providers.
- Homemakers clean the home, prepare meals, and run errands for their client. They’re a popular option for those who can dress and maintain good personal hygiene, but require some assistance with other activities of daily life. Homemaker services generally do not require a degree or certificate for one to become a homemaker, meaning these services are typically less expensive than personal care assistants but are limited in how they can assist.
- Companions provide your loved one with socialization while you’re away. A companion will:
- Get to know their client on a personal level
- Participate in crafts, board games, or other hobbies with the resident
- Take the resident on walks
- Help with small tasks throughout the day
- Accompany the resident during their errands
- Converse with the resident and give them a listening ear
Companions are a popular choice for care receivers who are mostly independent. Your family member has the ability to care for themselves on their own, but a companion can fulfill their social needs. While there are paid companion services, many communities have volunteers who are willing to do it without pay, making companions an ideal choice for families with limited finances.
Out-of-home respite services
Many caretaking facilities offer respite care stays when they have available space. Some families feel more comfortable taking their family member to a community for respite care than inviting someone into the home, making out-of-home respite services popular. At a professional care facility, primary caregivers can rest easy knowing their loved one is surrounded by educated staff and members of their community.
Out-of-home respite services vary. They typically fall into one of three categories:
- Adult day centers and similar communities are popular among those who need care for periods of less than 12 hours at a time. Adult day centers offer meals, companionship, and activities for care receivers while their caregiver is away working or managing other priorities. These services may be offered by an independent adult day center facility, or by a larger care network.
Adult day centers are staffed with professionals who can supervise and assist with your loved one during their stay, but they are ideal for those who maintain a high level of independence.
- Assisted living respite stays are ideal for residents who maintain some level of independence, but require regular assistance with their responsibilities of daily life. A respite stay in Assisted Living is ideal for a care period lasting longer than 24 hours (such as when the primary caregiver is away on vacation).
Ideally, your assisted living facility should offer a furnished room, meals, and 24-hour care. The goal is to help your loved one feel comfortable and at ease, while still receiving the care they need.
- Nursing homes offer the most comprehensive respite care, offering health care assistance in addition to personal care and companionship. Nursing home stays are best for residents who are almost entirely dependent on care to go about their daily responsibilities. Doctors often recommend nursing homes for those with unstable health conditions in need of respite care, as they typically have the most highly trained staff and offer the most services.
How long does respite care last?
Your family’s needs will determine how long you use respite care. Some facilities specialize in short-term stays, from a few hours to a few days, while others offer long-term care, lasting from weeks to months.
The best way to determine how long you’ll need respite care is to answer a few personal questions. In some cases, a doctor will prescribe a set period of time during which a person should receive respite care. If you’re seeking respite care for non-emergency reasons, consider the following questions:
- Are you leaving for a few hours, days, or weeks?
- Will you need continual help assisting your loved one with their activities of daily living?
- Are any of your other family members willing to take on caregiving roles?
- Do you feel comfortable allowing a caretaker in your home?
- What are your payment options for respite care, and how much are you willing to spend?
The typical duration of a respite care stay depends on the service you choose. Adult day center respite stays usually last a few hours to a day, making them a popular choice for working caregivers in need of daily assistance. For stays longer than one day, Assisted Living and nursing home facilities are a more typical choice.
Periods of in-home respite care vary greatly, depending on the type of caregiver you hire. A companion or homemaker will typically visit for the day, then leave in the evening. Your family member will not receive 24-hour care for these services. However, you may hire a home health care professional or personal assistant for overnight stays.
Respite care costs
How much does respite care cost?
The costs of respite care services vary, depending on the amenities they offer and the duration of the resident’s care needs.
- In-home caregivers may charge by the day or by the hour. An in-home caregiver’s rate is typically between $14-24 an hour, or $110-200 per day. The more services your in-home caregiver provides, the higher rates they will charge.
- Assisted living facilities and nursing homes typically charge the highest rates, costing up to $300 per day, or $9,200 per month. These rates can be even higher if your resident is admitted to a specialized facility, such as a memory care center, or if the facility offers advanced amenities.
Respite care service costs also vary by location and availability. In communities where professional caregivers are scarce, respite care can cost significantly more than it would in other cities.
Payment options for respite care
It can be a challenge for families to pay for respite care on their own due to its high costs. Insurance will only typically cover the cost when the care providers are licensed
Fortunately, there are many resources you can use to fund your family member’s short-term care needs:
- Retirement funds should be the first resource you consider to pay for your resident’s care. If they put money away during their lifetime to pay for their retirement years, consult with them about using this money to pay for a respite service.
- SSI disability may help recipients pay for their respite care needs. If your loved one receives SSI disability benefits, contact your local disability office to learn more about how they can help.
- Long-term care insurance usually covers respite care stays, if your loved one is enrolled in a plan. The caveat is your family member must enroll in long-term care insurance early in life to make it cost effective, but if they are covered, their plan will usually pay for respite care.
- Medicare and Medicaid do not directly pay for respite care unless it is medically necessary, but some states offer fee waivers to help families cope with the costs of respite care. These fee waivers can help cover many of the costs associated with respite care for those who are eligible.
Veterans enrolled in the VHA Standard Medical Benefits package offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may be eligible for respite care coverage. To be eligible, a veteran must:
- Be currently enrolled in the VHA Standard Medical Benefits package.
- Must meet a clinical need for respite care, as defined by the VA.
- The service must be available.
The VA will cover some respite services entirely, however they may charge a copay depending on your loved one’s financial and disability status.
Aid and Attendance
In addition to their medical benefits packages, the VA offers monetary payment to veterans who are housebound or require daily assistance from another person. These benefits are awarded alongside typical VA pensions and can help families with the cost of respite care.
Since Aid and Attendance benefits are paid in addition to a monthly pension, your family member must qualify for a basic pension to be eligible. If your family member receives a monthly pension from the VA and meets one or more of the qualifications below, they may qualify for benefits if they:
- Need assistance with activities of daily life, including feeding, bathing, dressing, and attending to bathroom needs
- Have vision problems (5/200 visual acuity or less)
- Are bedridden
- Have been admitted to a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacity
If your loved one is considerably limited to their immediate surroundings due to illness or injury, they may qualify as ‘housebound,’ making them eligible for an increased monthly pension. If you’re restricted to in-home respite care, the housebound pension may help you pay for in-home care services. However, the housebound pension may not be awarded at the same time as the Aid & Attendance pension, so speak to your loved one’s VA caseworker to learn more about your options. You may also visit the VA’s website to learn more about their monthly pensions.
Which types of respite care do the VA cover?
The VA offers coverage for numerous types of respite care. These include:
- Home health aides/home health care professionals
- adult day centers
- Community living centers (VA nursing homes)
Members of the VA can receive coverage for respite stays amounting to up to 30 days a year, divided as necessary. They may also divide their covered days among the three types of respite care the VA offers.
To learn more about which VA respite services are available to your family and at what cost, contact the VA’s caregiver support line at (855) 260-3274, or visit the VA website. Their staff will explain how their assistance programs work, which services are available in your area, and how they can help your veteran find the assistance they need.
Choosing a respite care provider
Once you’ve decided your family member needs respite care, there are numerous factors you should consider before choosing a respite care service or facility. If you’re considering out-of-home respite care, make it a priority to tour the facility before making a decision. For in-home caregivers, thoroughly interview them or the service that hired them to get an idea of how they will care for your loved one. Asking yourself a few key questions during and after the tour or interview can help you make the right choice for your family.
What is your loved one’s level of independence?
Each respite care service specializes in assistance with certain tasks. Ask yourself the following questions about your family member to get an idea of the level of care and supervision they will require in your absence:
- Can they get dressed and maintain good personal hygiene?
- Can they prepare meals and/or feed themselves?
- Can they clean their own home?
- Can they walk without assistance?
- Do they take pills or injections daily?
- Do they have an understanding of their surroundings?
Residents who can complete most of their activities of daily life without assistance may only require a companion or homemaker’s help, while those who are less independent may need to stay in an assisted living community or a nursing home.
quality of care does the facility or service offer?
It’s important to understand the quality of care your loved one will receive during their respite care stay. Whether it’s a visit from an in-home personal assistant or a stay in assisted living, you must know what to expect from the care service you choose.
What are their qualifications?
Ask the following questions during a tour of the facility or during your caregiver interview to ensure you are selecting the most qualified option for your family member:
- How are employees screened for their jobs as caretakers?
- What expectations are the employees held to?
- How does the facility evaluate their employees?
- Does the facility offer written care plans?
- Will they keep a record of your loved one’s special health conditions and medical needs?
- What is the ratio of staff to residents at the facility?
- How much does the care cost, and what’s included?
- Which types of payment do they accept?
- Is the facility or service insured?
- Do the caregivers have any special skills?
- How are the caregivers trained to handle emergencies?
What services do they offer?
Also, clarify which services the facility offers. Ask if their staff are trained to help your loved one:
- Maintain their personal hygiene
- Change clothes
- Manage medications
Does the facility feel like home?
As you tour the facility, ask yourself some questions about the look and feel of the grounds:
- Will your family member have a roommate or a private room?
- Is the facility easy to navigate?
- Are the rooms pleasant and clean?
- Is the surrounding neighborhood safe and quiet?
- Do the grounds look safe for your loved one to walk around?
- How big are the rooms?
- Can you imagine your family member enjoying their stay at the facility? Will it feel like home for the duration of their stay?
What amenities does the facility offer?
If you’re considering out-of-home respite care, consider the amenities the facility offers. You want your loved one to be comfortable while you’re away, and you want to know they’re getting everything they need. Assisted living communities and nursing homes typically offer some of the following amenities:
- Three nutritious meals daily, plus snacks
- Transportation to and from medical appointments
- Fitness rooms and programs
- Organized crafts and activities
- Community events
- Outdoor recreation (such as shuffleboard)
- On-site laundry
- Housekeeping services
Some facilities offer advanced amenities, like on-site beauty parlors, swimming pools, musical instruments, libraries, pharmacies, on-site pets, and common areas for socializing with others. Facilities with these amenities typically have higher costs, but provide the most comfort for their residents.
If your family member has dementia or Alzheimer’s, consider a facility with a memory care team. Many nursing homes and assisted living communities have specially trained staff to help those with memory loss feel comfortable in their new environment.
Respite care FAQs
1. My loved one is nervous about the prospect of respite care. How can I make them feel more comfortable?
As you introduce the idea of respite care to your family member, they may feel upset at first. Oftentimes, they’ll feel as though they’re losing their independence. They may feel that an in-home caretaker is an invasion of their privacy, and they may resist the idea of assisted living or adult day centers. They may think you’re introducing respite care as a segue into moving them to a care facility permanently. Whatever their reason, it’s not uncommon for care receivers to resist respite care.
Start by acknowledging their fears and misgivings. Let them know you understand why they may feel apprehensive about respite care, and tell them you will not make a decision which would lead to their discomfort. Calmly and clearly explain why you’re considering respite care, and let them know this is not a permanent change. Get your loved one involved in the process of choosing their caretaker, and learn which type of treatment they would prefer.
Once you have come to a decision together, introduce your loved one to their respite care provider gradually. If you’re hiring an in-home personal care assistant, have them visit for an hour or two at first, to acclimate everyone to the change. If you’re choosing a facility, let your loved one visit for a day to learn what a week or two may be like in the community.
The key is to help the care receiver maintain a sense of independence and dignity throughout the process. If you make your family member a part of the decision-making process, they’ll likely feel much more comfortable with respite care.
2. I’m nervous about leaving my family member in the care of someone else. How can I feel better about the idea of respite care?
If you feel nervous about leaving your family member in the care of someone else, even for a short period of time, you’re not alone. Many caregivers feel guilty about taking a break or may feel as though no one else but themselves can properly care for them.
Educate yourself thoroughly on respite care to help make yourself feel more comfortable with the idea. Only considered services and facilities you would want caring for you if you were in your loved one’s position. Speak to people you trust and let them know that you need a break, but are feeling apprehensive about letting someone else care for your family member. The best way to get comfortable with respite care is to understand exactly how the service will care for your loved one in your absence and to remind yourself that it’s for your family member’s benefit as well as your own that you take a break.
3. Do facilities have minimum stay requirements?
Some facilities have minimum stay requirements, others do not. Contact facilities you’re considering to find out more about their stay duration requirements.
4. Is it a good idea to choose a respite care service or facility before my family needs one?
It can be wise to talk to your loved one about respite care and research your options before a respite
5. How can I find respite care near me?
Most communities have some kind of respite care service to offer. To find a respite service in your area, use our state or city charts below. You may also call us at (844) 876-7235 to learn more about respite care options near you.
Proximity of care is very important when considering options
Research care options that are nearby when thinking about the next step for your loved ones.
Leona J. Werezak RN, BSN, MN is a registered nurse and adjunct nursing professor. She has 24 years experience working in a variety of healthcare settings including such remote locations as the Arctic Circle. Her research in early stage dementia was published in the Canadian Journal of Nursing Research and re-published in their 40th anniversary issue which showcased exceptional research published since the journal began. Her work in dementia care has also been published in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing. She currently teaches surgical nursing care on a thoracic/vascular unit to baccalaureate nursing students. Her clinical work with nursing students involves extensive work with older adults who have multiple chronic health conditions.