What Does Respite Care Mean for Caregivers?


Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Respite care can be a necessary option for all caregivers, as everyone requires a break and some time to reset and refresh. Depending on your caregiver duties, having respite care can be good for you and your family member.

Finding the right fit for both of you can be a process requiring patience and due diligence. There will be some bumps in the road but in the end, you will get relief and your loved one might be happier as well.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Respite resources continue to grow and having options can be good, but knowing what each has to offer will help you make the best decision. Over time, you might even find yourself using one or more of these resources depending on the changing needs of your family member.

What is Respite Care?

Respite care is a broad term used to describe short-term relief for caregivers. This relief can take place in several different ways and in different locations. In the end, the idea is to provide much-needed rest and respite from daily caregiving tasks. The advantage for the recipient is the opportunity for socialization, stimulation, and learning.

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

At home

Respite caregivers can come to your loved one’s home through a private agency or through a state-funded program. The National Respite Network and Resource Center can guide you to local agencies and companies to see if you qualify for state-funded resources.

Some people prefer in-home services for these reasons:

  • Your loved one may be more comfortable in their own home setting.
  • Transportation is not an issue. Caregivers come to the home.
  • The ability to manage caregivers and make adjustments if needed.

Adult day care

Adult daycare centers and programs are specifically designed to accommodate the need for families to leave someone for a period of time during the day. This could be due to the primary caregiver’s need to leave town or attend to other responsibilities that entail leaving home for defined periods of time.

Adult daycare centers offer flexible hours and trained staff to deal with problems like dementia, mental health problems, and minor medical issues.

Assisted living communities

Most assisted living communities have one or more furnished rooms dedicated to respite stays. There are several advantages to this option. A respite stay includes all of the amenities normally offered in assisted living.

Nursing is available and caregivers can accommodate your family member’s needs. A respite stay can also be considered a “trial run” for a future possible move in. 

What Happens in Respite Care? 

What happens in respite care depends on the type of arrangement you choose. The basic foundation of any respite care is to provide safe, client-centered care and activities. 

At home

Depending on state regulations, you can ask caregivers to do things such as help with bathing, dressing, shopping, and cooking for starters. Some other options can include the following:

  • Running errands
  • Providing companionship
  • Medication reminders
  • Some medical tasks such as blood pressure and blood sugar checks

Adult day care

Adult daycare centers have a wide range of programs. According to AARP, most daycare centers include some if not all of these services and activities:

  • Counseling
  • Education
  • Evening care
  • Exercise
  • Health screening
  • Meals
  • Medical care
  • Medication management
  • Physical therapy
  • Recreation
  • Respite care
  • Socialization
  • Supervision
  • Transportation

Most adult day care centers have flexible hours. If you only need three days a week for half days, that can be arranged. Other people need daily respite care for a family member or only weekend care. 

Pros and Cons of Respite

On the surface, respite seems like a very positive way to achieve caregiver relief while providing for the needs of a loved one. Whether respite is through adult day care, or assisted living, there are some things to consider when starting the process. 

Pros of respite care

Having time off from your caregiving duties allows you to deal with other important errands, like doctor’s appointments, shopping for necessary items, and any other urgent tasks. Conversely, your loved one can start up new friendships with other folks in adult day care, and has access to stimulating activities.

In addition, having a neutral set of eyes and ears to monitor your family member may help if you are concerned about any changes in their behavior or medical problems. 

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

Cons of respite care

Despite the option of a new face or a new place, your loved one may not like respite or refuse to participate. This is the biggest drawback and can be the most challenging aspect of respite.

While respite caregivers are experienced and responsible, you may not have control over who is caring for your loved one in the short term. Coupled with these other unknowns, the cost of respite may be too much for someone to take on even for a short amount of time.

How do You Qualify and Pay for Respite Care?

Anyone can use respite care, as long as they are willing to pay for it and their family member is accepted into a program. 

Private agency respite

Medicare does not pay for private caregivers to come to your home to care for your family member. However, there are state programs that may help pay for the cost of care if you qualify.

Long term care insurance can also help defray the costs of private caregivers. Another potential source is Medicaid. If someone is a veteran, there may be programs to assist with paying for care.

Assisted living

Assisted living respite is typically paid for out of pocket. Depending on where you live and which assisted living community you choose, there will be a daily rate for respite.

Most assisted living communities dictate a time limit for respite stays. This could be anywhere from 2 weeks to a month or longer. If your family member has behavioral problems or care needs that exceed what assisted living can provide, they may refuse admission.

Adult day care

Adult Day Care costs vary depending on where you live, as the average cost per day is about $72 in the U.S.

The same programs that pay for private agency caregivers may also help pay for adult day care. Each state has its own programs and eligibility requirements and funding is limited, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

10 Tips for Picking the Best Respite Care for an Older Adult

Regardless of respite location or type, these are our suggestions for picking the best respite situation for your loved one. Make sure to do your research, including reading some additional books about aging. Keep a flexible attitude and don’t be afraid to change if things don’t work out, but give each situation some time. 

1. Make sure the program or company is licensed in your state

Ask about insurance in case of an accident. If you choose a private agency, make sure they are licensed, bonded, and insured.

2. Ask about the other clients in the program

Client type can change daily in adult programs or assisted living. The majority of clients might have dementia or suffer from neurological disorders.

If your family member doesn’t have cognitive problems, being with other clients that have dementia may not be the best fit. Talk with the administrator about their process of transitioning a reluctant family member into the program.

» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

3. Caregiver training

Ask about the credentials and training of caregivers. Request a schedule of caregiver training and a break down of CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) versus non-licensed care providers.

4. Find out what services are included in the price

Ask about transportation services. For example, what areas are covered in the service and  how much does it cost? You may also want to ask about add-on services that are added to the daily rate. It also helps to review the planned activities and daily schedule. 

5. Inquire about medications and medical records

How are medical records handled and what is the process of keeping track of someone’s medical condition? What is the process of keeping the client’s medical information confidential? Are medications dispensed by a licensed care provider?

6. Emergency plan

Any program assisted living or private agency should have an emergency plan and process. Review that plan and make sure you are satisfied.

7. Participation criteria

Under what conditions would your family member be asked to withdraw from the program or company? Each respite care situation will have tasks and/or behaviors that they may not be able to do.

Consider asking what circumstances would jeopardize your loved one’s eligibility to stay in the program. Possibilities may include problems like aggression or sexually inappropriate behavior.

8. Request references

Request at least three names and numbers of other clients who have participated in the program you choose. Try reaching out to these clients to get their first-hand experiences. Do the same with a private agency.

9. Visit more than once

One visit to Adult Day Care or assisted living isn’t enough. Plan on several visits to get a clearer perspective on what the program is really like and who the other clientele are in the program.

If possible, try and drop in unannounced. Make an effort to observe the staff, food, environment, and general overall feeling.

10. Be flexible and patient

Easier said than done! Respite care may be a huge relief for you but might be very confusing or anxiety-provoking for your loved one.

Things may not go well at first and it is important to give things some time before making a decision to change. Receiving care from a stranger may be a transition for both of you.

Respite Care For Everyone

Caregiving can be a labor of love that has its share of frustrations and stress. Time away from caregiving may be necessary and restorative for both you and your loved one.

If your family member resists your efforts at respite, be patient and empathetic. Sometimes small steps at first can be the best approach. With time, things can improve.

If you're looking for more caregiving resources, read our guides on caregiver resentment and caregiver support groups.


  1. “A Consumer Guide for Family Caregivers.” National Respite Network and Resource Center. archrespite.org/consumer-information#Types%20of
  2. “Paying for Adult Day Care and Adult Day Health Care.” Paying for Senior Care. www.payingforseniorcare.com/adult-day-care#Non-Medicaid-State-Assistance 

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.