Respite Care

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on March 01, 2022
5 min read

Respite care is a special name for a short-term break for caregivers. 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.

Respite care can take place:

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

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 day, a few days, or a few weeks.

Someone who has an illness or disability may need care around the clock. Caregivers sometimes need time to rest and relax, go on vacation, shop, go to appointments, work, or exercise.

You might use respite care if you’re in charge of someone who has a condition like:

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

You can also choose group respite care. Usually, this 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. They 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 may 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 do more, like help to bathe, dress, groom, take medications, or eat. Some respite care providers can also run a load of laundry, make beds, or fix meals.

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 will pick up your loved at home and bring them back 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 as long as 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. They usually offer housekeeping, too.

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

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

If you care for more than one loved one, like both of your parents, check whether certain care programs will look after multiple people.

Other important questions to ask before you set up 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 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.

The cost of respite care depends on the type of agency, the services you use, and how long you need it. Some long-term care insurance policies will cover it, and Medicare and Medicaid may help. But most other insurance won’t pay for respite care. Check your policy to find your out-of-pocket costs.

You might qualify for help through government or private programs. Check with your state’s developmental disabilities agency or your area agency on aging to learn more about what’s available. Caregiver groups and nonprofits that focus on specific conditions, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, also have resources. 

The first obstacle might be admitting that you need a break. You can become so focused on caring for another person that you feel like you can’t take time to look after yourself, too. Let yourself take breaks now and then so you don’t get mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. When you come back, you’ll be able to focus more energy on your role, and that will be a boost for the person you’re caring for.

Do your research to find the options that work best for your situation and how you can pay for it. When you’re looking at a specific program, ask as many questions as you need, and get references or referrals to help set your mind at ease.

If money is a concern, you might also be able to set up a swap with another caregiver who’s dealing with a similar situation, such as a child who has special needs. Or ask family, friends, neighbors, or faith-based groups for help.

Be open with your loved one and the rest of your family about why you need respite care and what you’re planning. They might want to be involved in the process.

Show Sources


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.”\

Autism Speaks: “Respite Care.”

Nemours/KidsHealth: “Finding Respite Care for Your Child With Special Needs.”

AARP: “Respite Care: Create a Plan to Give Yourself a Caregiving Break.”

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