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Everything You Need to Know About Respite Care

What is Respite Care?

Respite care is temporary care for a loved one that allows the primary caregiver time away from the responsibilities as a caregiver. The primary caregiver could use that time to visit other friends or family, to leave the house, to run errands or just give them a much-needed break. For whatever reason, respite care should give the caregiver peace of mind to get on with other things without having to constantly worry, “Is my loved one OK?”

In addition to offering a break for the caregiver, respite care can also help the senior by letting him or her interact with someone other than the primary caregiver in a safe and supportive environment. Respite caregivers can help the senior complete daily activities like housework or cooking, personal hygiene, mental stimulation or just offer companionship.

Respite care can take place in a hospice or medical facility, in a senior day care center or the comfort of the senior's own home.

Why Do I Need Respite Care?

Caring for a loved one is demanding, and everyone needs a break sometimes. Though your loved one no doubt appreciates your work, which allows Mom or Dad to stay comfortable in the home, the physical, emotional and mental burden to the caregiver can be overwhelming. Did you know that 40 to 70 percent of family caregivers have clinical symptoms of depression? Further, over 10 percent of family caregivers report that caregiving has caused their physical health to deteriorate.2

By taking time to look after your own needs, including health, exercise and social interaction, you can ensure that you’re able to look after your loved one to the best of your ability and give the person the care that is needed. It is perfectly normal to feel frustrated or burnt out, and respite care can be a great way to step away from these feelings and recharge. Respite care can also help with your loved one's health. Studies have shown that the number of hospitalizations decreases as the number of days of respite care increases.3

On average, family caregivers spend at least 20 hours a week caring for their loved one and in 13 percent of cases, they spend over 40 hours providing direct care.4 And keep in mind, your other commitments don’t disappear when you start caring for a loved one. In fact, 60 percent of family caregivers remain employed.5

Respite care can help you make time for life outside of your caring duties. Even when you’re out of the house, you may not be fully switched off from your responsibilities as a family caregiver and there are often feelings of guilt involved with having left your loved one’s side.

Respite caregivers can help with tasks around the home, personal care, prepare healthy meals or simply keep your loved one company. Critically, when your loved one is with a professional caregiver, you know Mom or Dad is in good hands, so you can spend guilt-free time doing the other things in life.

When is Respite Care Available?

Respite care will be available to fit you and your loved one's schedules. Professional caregivers can visit as frequently as you desire on a program based around you and your loved one’s needs. The care can be temporary or longterm. It will be available weekdays, weekends and holidays. A home care agency will work with you to create a care plan that works for both you and your loved one.

How Many Hours of Respite Care Do I Need?

The number of hours of care that you need can vary depending on several factors. Are there other family members helping you provide care? What are your responsibilities away from your loved one? What is your work schedule? Do you have kids? Do you need a couple of hours twice a week or a full 24 hours away from the house?

It may also depend on what type of care your loved one needs. Does Mom require personal care? Does Dad have other companions who visit with him? Is Mom safe in the house alone? Does Dad need help taking medicines at set times of the day? Professional home care professionals will help you to build a care plan that looks after both your needs and the needs of your loved one.

It’s also important to remember that as your loved one gets older or the condition worsens, more care may be needed. Your loved one’s care plan is constantly evolving, and your home care provider can be there in the future to expand the role as needed.

How Much Does Respite Care Cost?

The cost of respite care can vary depending on the type of care your loved one needs. How often your senior needs care also plays a role in determining cost and costs can vary across the country. A home care service provider should partner with you to schedule care as needed and within your budget.

Is Respite Care Covered by Medicare?

In most cases, Medicare does not pay for long-term care. There are some instances where they may cover respite care for you and your loved one. If your loved one has a short-term condition and a doctor expects him or her to recover, Medicare may cover some care provided in the home.6 If your loved one has a terminal illness, and the doctor believes that the person has less than six months to live, and he or she accepts palliative care instead of treatment for the condition, your loved one may be covered. Medicare will cover respite care, both in the home and also short-term stays in a hospice or medical facility.7

If your loved one does not qualify for Medicare, there may be other ways to fund it. State Medicaid funds some forms of respite care (varies by state.) If your loved one is a veteran, he or she may be covered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. If your loved one has long-term care insurance, this will likely include respite care.


1 Zarit, S. (2006). Assessment of Family Caregivers: A Research Perspective

2 How Do Family Caregivers Fare? A Closer Look at their Experiences. Center on Aging Society. 2005.

3 http://www.amchp.org/Calendar/Conferences/amchp-conference/Handouts2012/Sunday/E04%20-%20CYSHCN%20-%20Part%201%20-%20Handout3.pdf

4 http://caregiveraction.org/resources/caregiver-statistics

5 http://www.caregiving.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/mmi-caregiving-costs-working-caregivers.pdf

6 https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/home-health-services.html

7 https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/home-health-services.html

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