What is respite care, exactly?

woman relaxing

The National Institute on Aging describes respite care as “short-term relief for primary caregivers.” Respite care is often provided for family members who are providing full-time care to aging family members. However, respite care can also be provided to caregivers of a family member with special needs. 

Respite care can come from friends or family who watch your loved one so you can take a personal break. Respite care might even be available through volunteer services. Oftentimes, full-time caregivers rely on home care services to provide respite care. These are paid caregivers who are trained and experienced to provide the support that you need.

Respite care time frame–when and how long?
Many people who are seeking respite care are curious about how long the care is provided. Respite care can range from a few hours a day to one or two days a week. Sometimes care is provided monthly or for weeks at a time – it really just depends on the type of support you are enlisting and how that particular service operates. Respite care is designed to meet your needs, so the respite program is made to fit each individual caregiver. Respite care can also be provided occasionally or on an on-going basis. 

Types of respite care
There are different types of respite care available to caregivers. 

  • Facility services – Respite care facilities are much like assisted living centers, but they provide short-term respite services instead of long-term support.
  • Adult day centers – Adult day centers allow caregivers to drop off their loved one for a few hours or a whole day. They offer classes, meals, and some even provide transportation services and can pick-up your loved one. 
  • Home Care – Home care is often a preferred choice because it allows your loved one to stay in the comfort and familiarity of their own home. Home care providers come to you and can assist with a number of services from transportation, cooking, providing companionship, bathing, exercise and more. 

Does insurance cover respite care?
Depending on the type of services you are requesting and the type of agency you need – some insurances might cover it. Private insurances may offer long-term care coverage and you may receive help from Medicaid or Medicare. Policies vary so it is always important to see what type of coverage you have. Most private insurances do not cover respite care. 

There are government and other private programs that do provide assistance. Each state’s developmental disabilities agencies can provide information to help you learn what type of respite care is available. There are also caregiver groups and non-profit organizations for specific conditions that have other resources, too. 

When you need a break
As a full-time caregiver, the most difficult part could be recognizing that respite care is needed and admitting that you need support. All caregivers need support and some time to themselves. 

Mental, physical and emotional stress is high for caregivers and breaks are necessary. Support yourself and your needs so that you can continue to provide the support that your loved one needs – and that you want to provide. Taking a break doesn’t mean that you don’t love your family member or that “you can’t do it,” it simply means that you know that you require a recharge so that you can continue to provide the loving care that you are so proud of giving. Seeking support is never a weakness – it is always a stepping block to support you in your full-time caregiving.

Be nice to yourself and your family caregiver
After all, caring for a family member, juggling a job and keeping your own family and household running are feats that almost require superhuman strength. It’s okay, even recommended, that you put yourself first sometimes by taking a much-earned respite from the stress that only a superhuman can fathom. If you let yourself get mired in the stress of managing so many lives, it will hurt you and your loved ones. Be nice to yourself!