Caregivers are people who take care of others who cannot live independently, often a family member such as an aging parent or a disabled child. Those caregivers sometimes need a break, but someone has to be there to provide the care. This is the purpose of respite care. It is temporary care provided for a patient that allows the primary caregiver to have time off.

Respite care may be in the home, residential, or a day care service. It can be used regularly or on a one-time basis and may be provided by a variety of types of care professionals depending on needs. It can be difficult for a family caregiver to take a break, with feelings of guilt associated with leaving, but breaks are crucial for preventing caregiver burnout and for continuing to ensure the patient gets the best care.

Care for Caregivers

Respite care is temporary care that is provided for someone who needs permanent or long-term care. This temporary care is used as a break for the primary caregiver, often a family member, who would otherwise get burned out providing round-the-clock care. So the purpose of the care is for the caregiver, but it is actually administered to the patient. The caregiver can then take a few hours off, a whole day off, or sometimes an extended period of time away from the job of caring.

In-Home Respite Care

Respite care can take many different forms depending on the needs of the patient and the caregiver. One option is in-home care, where a support worker comes to the house to care for the patient. This is a choice that someone who cares for their loved one at home may select for respite care. With in-home care you then have more options. A respite care worker can do household chores to give you break, can provide some of the direct care for the patient, or can provide all of the care for the patient.

An in-home respite worker can also be hired to work regularly, for a couple hours a day or week. These workers may be used to give you a break for an entire day once a week or once in a while. They can also provide one-time care for an extended period of time so that the caregiver can take a longer break or to allow the caregiver to travel.

Residential Respite Care

Another option for care is to move the patient to a residential facility for a period of time. This is a good option for someone who needs round-the-clock care and more advanced medical care. It is also an option for a caregiver who wants a break that is a week or longer. This gives the caregiver the chance to enjoy time at home without responsibilities or to travel for a period of time. Caregivers may feel more comfortable with a residential option because it provides more supervised and controlled care than a substitute caregiver in the home.

Adult Day Care

Day care is a respite option that allows a caregiver a break during the day. It can also be used regularly so that the caregiver can still go to work. Adult day care is typically used for adults with disabilities or with dementia and similar conditions. These adults need supervision and some care, but the day care services also typically provide activities and social time with other adults. Day care facilities often provide meals and transportation.

Hospice Respite

The burden and responsibility of caring for a loved one can be overwhelming, and this is especially true when that person is living with a terminal illness. Caregivers for terminal patients have the additional stress of knowing that their family member will not recover or get well again. Added to the physical and emotional stress of caregiving, this kind of caregiving can be the most demanding. Hospice respite allows a caregiver to get a much-needed break by providing professional hospice and palliative services temporarily. This is usually done in a hospice facility where all the resources for caring for the patient are available.

Who Provides Respite Care?

The professionals providing care may vary depending on the setting for the respite care and the needs of the patient. In some cases respite care may be provided by someone with limited or no medical training, who simply provides companionship or assistance with household chores. Trained home health workers can provide slightly more skilled care, such as assistance with bathing, dressing, and medications.

For patients who need more medical care, a nursing assistant or skilled nurse may be required to provide the necessary respite care. These professionals can help with administering medications, using intravenous fluids, or performing minor procedures.

Quality Respite Care Prevents Burnout

Respite care is very important because it prevents caregiver burnout. Burnout is real and it is a state of exhaustion that affects a person emotionally, physically, and mentally. As a caregiver, if you let yourself get to the point of burnout, you will be unable to function normally. Not only is burnout bad for the caregiver, but it also means that the person being cared for is not getting quality care. This makes respite care crucial for the health and well-being of both the caregiver and their charge. Burnout can cause a number of symptoms, including:

  • Physical exhaustion.
  • Emotional exhaustion.
  • Urges to hurt the person in your care.
  • Irritability.
  • Feeling depressed.
  • Changes in appetite and weight.
  • Changes in sleep habits.
  • Loss of interest in activities.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Getting sick more often than normal.

Burnout is preventable as long as a caregiver gets a break from caring. The frequency and duration of breaks needed varies depending on the individual caregiver. Respite care is flexible so that you can get as many breaks as you need for as long as is necessary.

Coping with Guilt and Other Barriers to Respite Care

Getting a break from caregiving is so important for both the patient and the caregiver, but there are barriers. If you are caring for a loved one, guilt can be a major barrier. It is important to remember that using respite care is not selfish; it is essential. You cannot provide good care if you get burned out, and even the strongest, most caring people do get burned out.

During your time off thanks to respite care, it is crucial that you care for yourself. Spend time doing things that relax you, that you enjoy, and that you don’t have time for while you are being a caregiver. Think of it as a time to recharge your caring batteries. If you still struggle with guilt, consider joining a caregiver support group to share your feelings with others who are in a similar situation.

Another barrier may be cost. Check your loved one’s insurance to find out if respite care is covered. It often is, although the services covered may be limited, to in-home care or day care for instance. You can also look for financial assistance, through non-profit groups for Alzheimer’s, dementia, or disabilities, or through community or government agencies.

Respite care is a crucial part of overall care for people who cannot be independent. These people need a lot of care and it is too much for one person, or even two. If you are a caregiver, know your options for respite care and take advantage of these services to get the care you need and to prevent burnout.