What is respite care? Let’s start with a definition of the word “respite.” According to the Oxford Dictionary, a respite is a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.
According to our elder care coordinator, Jennifer Hand, respite care is a temporary break that relieves people of their usual caregiving duties and responsibilities. “Respite care allows family caregivers to attend things in their own lives outside of caregiving, such as work commitments, errands, or looking after their own children,” she said. “It can also involve taking time out to do something enjoyable, such as reading, shopping, exercising, or catching up with friends.”
Jennifer says that respite care is more than a frill; it’s an essential. “I think respite is incredibly important,” she said. “Caregiving can be very rewarding, but it also can be an all-consuming responsibility. Many caregivers can feel stressed or drained of energy. Respite care can give them a much-needed break in order to recharge and restore balance in their lives.”
For some primary caregivers, respite can come in the form of other family members who step in to cover while the caregiver takes a break. For others, formal respite care provided by professional caregivers is the best option.
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Fortunately, respite care services are relatively easy to find. Care can be provided at home, in a long-term care facility, or at an adult day center. Care can be arranged for as little as an afternoon or for as long as several weeks. If you’re not already working with an elder care professional, the ARCH National Respite Locator Service(link is external) can help you find services in your community.
Respite services charge by the hour or by the number of days or weeks that services are provided. Most insurance plans do not cover these costs. You must pay all costs not covered by insurance or other funding sources. Medicare will cover most of the cost of up to five days in a row of respite care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility for a person receiving hospice care. Medicaid also may offer assistance.
How much respite is enough? Jennifer believes that it depends on the caregiver and his or her situation. “It can be as little as 20 minutes, or as much as 20 days,” she explained. “Sometimes a short-term stay ends up turning into a long-term stay because folks need that extra break. One of the great things about respite care is its flexibility.”
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How does a person new to respite care find the right services? “A quick online search will produce a list of providers in your area, including in-home, adult day, and long-term care facilities,” Jennifer counseled. “Your local Life Care Planning Law Firm can also be a great help. The elder law attorneys and elder care coordinators will know exactly where to go to find the best respite care providers. Your local Council on Aging is another great option, and some even offer grants to help pay for care.”