What is Respite Care?

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What is Respite Care?

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Being a caregiver has a direct impact on a person’s health and wellbeing. Without time away from those caregiving task lists that never seem to end, those providing care are more likely to experience negative impacts to their mental and physical health. In a 2021 survey, we asked members of the Caregiving.com community how they felt about the quality of their mental health. Over 50 percent rated their current mental health as fair to poor, and the majority of respondents reported that mental health issues had interfered with their work, caregiving, and other regular activities. Blue Cross Blue Shield's research on the effects caregiving has on mental and physical health builds on what we discovered: stress-related physical and behavioral health conditions are higher among caregivers than their benchmark population. Not only does unmanaged stress correlate to health issues for the caregiver, it can also compromise the quality of care they are able to give.

Whether it’s for a few hours or over the course of several days, respite care is a great personal care option — especially for full-time and primary caregivers who are at greater risk of experiencing caregiver burnout. Keep reading to learn more about what respite care is and what respite options are available for family caregivers.

What is respite care?

“At its foundation, respite provides a short-term break for caregivers,” says Heather Zoccali, Founder and Program Director of the No Barriers Caregiver Program. In most situations, particularly those where hands-on care is provided on a regular or 24/7 basis, respite is best thought of as a self-preservation tactic — one that helps you be more deliberate about “me” time  and, when practiced regularly, allows adequate time for you to rest and recover. Kate Houck, executive director at David’s Refuge, adds, “Respite offers a chance for caregivers to step away from the [mental, physical, and emotional] demands of their role and to reconnect with themselves, their spouse, and others who ‘get it.’” 

Anyone who cares for someone else is entitled to respite, though certain criteria may be required in order to enroll in and access certain programs — particularly if the services are state-funded or offered through an insurer. For example, Medicare will cover inpatient care at an approved facility up to five consecutive days — which can provide temporary relief from caregiving — but only if the individual requiring care is enrolled in hospice.

What does respite care cost?

The cost of respite care varies widely depending on both task and time-related needs. Costs can range from $0 for volunteer support to upwards of several thousand dollars per month for home care services, assisted living, and nursing home stays. Click here for more information on how much it costs to hire a caregiver.

If hiring care in the home or paying for stays in a facility are not financially available to you, rest assured there are no- to low-cost respite options available to you. An overview of some of these more affordable options is provided below.

Respite options for family caregivers

Respite options fall into two primary categories: personal respite and professional respite services/programs provided both in and outside the home. Accessing respite may be dependent on the availability of services based on where you live and whether or not you have reliable support from family and friends. Respite can be pursued individually or in group settings. It can also be planned or used on an as-needed basis. In some cases respite care can be provided in a crisis, though the availability of such services vary by provider. Ultimately, your respite needs will depend on how involved your day-to-day care is and whether you need either more time away to take care of yourself or someone who can offer help with specific caregiving duties. 

Personal respite care

Personal respite means finding meaningful ways to break up your day-to-day so you are free to do the routines and activities that are essential to your wellbeing. This can be achieved by, “enlisting the help of friends and family to watch a loved one so you can go to the gym, handle chores, connect with friends, and participate in hobbies,” says Zoccali.

Peer support is another personal respite option that is widely available. Support groups, like those offered through the Well Spouse Association, provide both physical and virtual spaces where you can connect with other caregivers to talk about your experiences and to share resources. There are also a number of organizations, like No Barriers and David’s Refuge that offer retreats specifically geared toward caregivers. The programs usually take place over the course of several days and provide thoughtful activities that help you reconnect with yourself through reflection, creativity, and physical activity.

Professional respite care

If friends and family are limited in their ability to offer support — or are simply not an option — you may consider hiring help or signing your loved one up for community-based day-time programs. These types of respite care can be offered either at home or outside of the home depending on need and availability.

Care in the home

  • Companion services, also known as intergenerational programs, offer paid or volunteer support that provide supervision, companionship, and help with small tasks around the home.
  • Home health aides range in skill level from untrained companions to skilled nurses. They can be hired independently or through a home care agency.

Care outside the home

  • Adult day cares provide health and social programming on weekdays for older people and adults living with health impairments. They often include transportation, field trips, and meals.
  • Short-term stays are available at both assisted living communities and nursing homes to those recovering from an illness or in need of rehabilitation services.
  • Volunteer assistance may be available through faith-based organizations.
  • Senior centers offer programming, socialization, and transportation for healthy, independent older adults.

Respite care is a vital and potentially underutilized resource available to family caregivers that can lighten your proverbial load and help you develop the endurance and patience that may be needed throughout a caregiving experience. Speaking to the importance of respite care, Zoccali says that, “Providing caregivers with the opportunity for a deliberate break from their caregiving duties should be considered as vital and necessary as the rehabilitation and recovery for the loved ones we care for. Allowing short-term breaks helps caregivers to practice creating boundaries, practice self-compassion, self-care, and — most importantly — self-love.”

Respite care resources

The ARCH National Respite Network was created to help caregivers and families understand and access respite, the latter of which can be done using their respite locator tool.

Area Agencies on Aging are a nationwide network of nonprofits that can point you in the direction of caregiver support programs in your area.

Eldercare Locator can be used to find home and community-based services for both you and your aging loved one.

The National Adult Day Services Association offers resources and research, including guidelines on choosing a center.

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