What Is Respite Care?

When you look after someone who’s sick or disabled, it’s a 24-hour job. You need a break from time to time to look after your own needs. That’s where respite care can help.

It’s a fancy name for a short-term break for caregivers. Professionals trained to care for elderly people or anyone with special needs can provide respite care.

Respite care can take place:

  • In your home
  • At special day-care centers
  • In residential centers that offer overnight stays

How Long Does It Last?

Your breaks can be as long or short as you need them to be. You can set up respite care for a few hours, a whole day, a few days, or a few weeks at a time.

Who Needs It?

Someone who’s ill or disabled needs care around the clock. Caregivers sometimes need time to rest and relax, go on vacation, shop, go to appointments, work, or exercise.

You may need respite care if you’re in charge of someone with a condition like:

What Happens?

While you’re away, respite care offers a safe, comfortable setting for your loved one. Trained providers can sit and talk with someone who’s disabled or ill. They will also help your loved one:

You can also choose group respite care. Usually, this care takes place at assisted-living facilities, adult day care centers, or community centers.

These programs might include music, dance, or art classes led by trained providers. These programs often offer group meals, entertainment, or just time to socialize with others.

Someone who’s elderly or ill may feel isolated if they’re at home all the time. Caregivers can feel isolated, too. Respite care can be a welcome break for both of you.

Respite Care at Home

If you care for a loved one at home, respite care can come to you.

In-home respite care providers may act as companions for someone who’s sick or elderly. They keep them company and make sure they don’t hurt themselves.

Home health aides may be able to offer more care, like help to bathe, dress, groom, take medications, or eat. Some respite care providers can run a load of laundry, make the beds, or fix meals, too.


Adult Day Centers or Programs

You can take your loved one to an adult day center for respite care for a few hours or the whole day.

Adult day centers may offer exercise, music classes, or meals supervised by trained staff. Some programs may even pick up your loved at home and bring them home at the end of the session.

Respite Care Facilities

You may think of assisted living facilities as apartment complexes for seniors who can’t live on their own anymore. But some offer short-term stays for respite care.

It’s also called short-term assisted living or residential respite care.

Short-term assisted living allows you to take a trip for up to a few weeks while your loved one stays in a safe, comfortable apartment, room, or suite. Trained staff provide care day and night.

The staff can help your loved one eat meals, take medications on schedule, dress, bathe, and exercise in classes or outdoors on the grounds. They usually offer housekeeping, too.

Some facilities even have hair stylists, gyms, religious services, and supervised outings. They may be able to take your loved one to medical appointments or shopping.

How to Find Care

Insurance doesn’t always cover respite care. Medicare and Medicaid may pay some respite care costs. Check your policy to find out what your out-of-pocket costs will be.

Make sure any respite care service, program, or facility is licensed in your state and has insurance in case accidents happen. You can also ask for the credentials, insurance, or experience of any care provider, and talk to them ahead of time if possible.

If you care for more than one loved one, like both of your parents, find out if respite care can include both of them.

Other important questions to ask before you book respite care include:

  • How long can respite care sessions last?
  • Does the facility offer transportation?
  • What services are included in the price?
  • How far in advance do I need to book sessions or stays?
  • What kind of special training do the caregivers have?
  • How do you evaluate caregivers?
  • What plans do you have for fire or weather emergencies?
  • How does the program or facility keep track of patients’ medical conditions or medications?

You may want to talk to a few respite care providers or visit several places to find the best fit. If possible, let your loved one take part. This will make you both feel more at ease with respite care.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 23, 2019



National Institute on Aging: “What Is Respite Care?”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging: “Respite Care.”

Alzheimer’s Association: “Respite Care.”

American Cancer Society: “If You’re About to Become a Cancer Caregiver.”

Family Caregiver Alliance: “Caregiver Isolation and Loneliness,” “Resources by Health Issue or Condition.”

Albert Einstein College of Medicine: “How Loneliness Affects the Mind and Body.”

Jewish Senior Life Wolk Manor Assisted Living: “Respite Care.”

Beth Sholom Lifecare Community: “Respite Care.”

Colorado Respite Coalition: “How to Choose a Respite Care Provider.”

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