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Respite Care 101: The Complete Guide to Respite Care Services for Family Caregivers

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There are currently over 40 million unpaid caregivers in the US, nine-in-ten of whom are caring for an aging loved one. As the elderly population continues to grow, more and more family members are finding themselves serving as caregivers. Some choose to do so to save money on professional caregiving, while others feel called to provide care to those who nurtured them earlier in life. For many family caregivers, it’s a combination of several factors.

But as fulfilling as it may be to provide care to those that cared for you throughout your life, it can also be very easy to forget to take care of yourself. Caregiver burnout can occur when one spends too little time focusing on themself and their wants, instead opting to spend all their energy on family responsibilities and being a family caregiver. Among the long list of symptoms of caregiver burnout are social withdrawal, changes in sleep patterns, and an increased frequency of illness.

Respite care can help alleviate some of the symptoms of caregiver burnout by providing day or overnight senior care services, giving caregivers a much-needed break for a few hours a day or a few days a week. There are different types of respite care that can serve seniors with a range of different care needs. Read on to learn more about this type of substitute care and how to know if it’s right for you.

The Basics of Respite Care

Respite care is a form of short-term substitute care that provides temporary relief for caregivers. These brief breaks from the duties of caregiving can be vital to maintaining a positive outlook for caregivers with many duties to juggle, some of them incredibly stressful. There are longer-term respite options that last for several weeks to a month.

No matter how long a period of respite care one pursues, the goal is to give caregivers a break to focus on themselves and their personal responsibilities. Some caregivers may seek respite so they can work outside of the home or take care of personal tasks and errands. Respite helps unpaid caregivers find more balance in their lives and can be especially useful in the event of an emergency, such as if the caregiver falls ill and cannot perform their duties.

Respite Care Services

Respite care providers offer a range of services, which can be catered to fit the needs of each individual client. Whether a senior needs medication assistance or just a bit of supervision and companionship, there are respite care workers who can provide the level of care they need. Some of the services offered by respite care providers include:

  • Supervision and Companionship: If your loved one functions at a high level but you worry about leaving them home alone, respite care can provide supervision and companion services.
  • Activities of Daily Living: Activities of daily living (ADLs) are essential tasks that one must accomplish each day, like dressing, bathing, and eating. ADL assistance is a standard service offered by almost all respite care providers.
  • Basic Medical Care: Most respite care providers are equipped to handle basic medical care, like wound care or medication assistance. If your loved one requires medical care beyond these basics, be sure that you work with a provider with more advanced medical training.
  • Household Tasks: Respite care workers can complete basic household tasks like laundry, grocery shopping, and light cleaning.
  • Transportation: Some respite care workers can provide transportation to help your loved one get to appointments or run necessary errands.
  • Meals: Respite care providers can prepare meals and help your loved one eat.
  • Personal Attention: When provided in the home, respite care is one-on-one between the senior and caregiver. Seniors get individual attention and the caregiver is fully focusing on your loved one and their needs.

Types of Respite Care

There are quite a few different options for respite care, and the best one for you will depend on your personal situation and the needs of your loved one. Informal respite might be a solution for you if you have trusted friends and family members that are willing to step in for a few hours at a time while you go run errands or just have you-time. But if you find that you need consistent assistance or your aging relative becomes increasingly difficult to care for, you may need to transition to a more formal type of respite. Below, we explain some of the most common types of respite care and for whom they can be a good fit.

Adult Day Care
Adult day care services are provided in a variety of settings, from church meeting halls to senior centers and assisted living facilities. According to the CDC, there are approximately 4,600 adult day care centers across the United States. These centers provide daytime caregiving services to seniors whose caregivers need to work outside of the home, seniors who would otherwise be isolated and want socialization, and others. Typically, a senior spends six to eight hours at adult day care, eating lunch and a snack and enjoying a variety of activities. The centers provide a safe environment for seniors to spend time with friends, personal care services and assistance with ADLs as needed, and fun activities that are designed to engage participants.

Adult day care respite services are great for caregivers who also work outside of the home and need daytime coverage or those who need a break to handle their personal errands. It can also be a welcome source of socialization for the senior.

Professional In-Home Care
Families can work with professional in-home caregivers to provide respite care in the senior’s home. Skilled in-home caregivers can provide care on an as-needed basis or on a scheduled cadence, like two days per week. Like adult day care, in-home respite care can be useful for caregivers who also work outside of the home and do not want to leave their elderly loved ones at home alone.

In-home aides are trained to perform caregiving duties like toileting, grooming, and helping with mobility. Caregivers of seniors who need higher-level medical care, like medication administration, should look into home healthcare aides. Home healthcare professionals have advanced training and certification to provide more medical care compared to standard in-home caregivers.

Residential Respite Care
Some senior residential communities offer short-term overnight services. In some long-term care facilities, a specific number of beds is set aside exclusively for short-term respite stays. This option can be a great stress-reliever for caregivers who need to travel out of town and want to ensure their loved one always has assistance available to them. Not all residential care communities offer respite, so be sure to plan ahead and find a community in your area ahead of time.

Benefits of Respite Care

While caregiving can be rewarding, it does present various challenges and difficulties. Depending on your situation, your schedule, and your loved one’s needs, it may be necessary to use respite services when your schedule becomes hectic or to bring more balance to your life. Respite care has many benefits for both caregivers and seniors, some of which we explore below.

Caregivers get a much-deserved break
Serving as a primary caregiver is an extremely demanding position, and everyone needs a break sometimes. Respite care is the perfect way to get some relief from caregiving duties while still maintaining your important role of primary caregiver for your loved one. Caregivers are able to take some time to themselves to work, run personal errands, or vacation without having to worry about leaving their loved one alone.

Respite care can provide important assistance in an emergency
Life is unpredictable. If you are a primary caregiver for an elderly loved one, an unexpected event that requires you to leave the house can cause major stress. Respite care can be a simple solution for when other obligations take you away from your caregiving.

Seniors receive personal attention from professional caregivers
If you choose to use respite care in the home, your loved one will be the sole focus of the provider. In all cases, care can be modified to specifically meet the needs of your loved one. You will never have to worry that your loved one will not be able to get the care that they need, or that they will slip through the cracks of the provider.

Respite care is one of the most flexible senior care options
Respite care can be used on an as-needed basis. Although you do have to plan somewhat ahead of time to arrange timing with the provider, respite care allows caregivers to take some time off whenever they need to. The flexible options for respite care make it simple to find a provider and setting that work for you and your loved one.

Determining If Respite Is Right For You

Often, caregivers are reluctant to admit they may need respite, and deciding to allow someone else to step in as a caregiver can be a big decision. To determine if you and your family could benefit from respite, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you feel emotionally and physically drained on a regular basis?
  • Are you concerned that in the event of an emergency there is no one that you trust to take care of your loved one?
  • Do you find yourself becoming more agitated with things that previously never bothered you?
  • Are you neglecting your own health-related needs due to lack of time or lack of desire to assess your own needs?
  • Are you experiencing resentment toward other family members who could help you but don’t?
  • Is your social life suffering?
  • Is there an unusual change in your eating habits?
  • Do you have feelings of helplessness?
  • Have you been resorting to self-soothing habits like smoking, gambling, or drinking?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it might be a good idea for you to consider respite care to help relieve some of your daily stress. However, if you feel that your loved one’s needs have increased beyond what you can provide, respite care is not the solution. While a break can be beneficial in regards to caregiver stress, if your loved one’s needs have truly surpassed what you can handle, respite care will not change the situation.

In these cases, it is best to consider other senior care options. Consider hiring an in-home caregiver or home health care aide to care for your loved one on a regular basis, or look into residential facilities like assisted living that provide services that can meet your loved one’s needs.

Respite Care Costs

The costs for different types of respite vary. The least expensive form of respite would be from unpaid, informal caregivers such as a trusted friend, but this is not always the best option. Of the formal types of respite, adult day care is the least expensive, at an average monthly cost of $1,603.

For those interested in in-home respite from a professional caregiver, the national average cost is approximately $25 an hour. Working with a home health aide who can provide higher-level medical care is slightly more expensive, at an average of $26 per hour in the United States.

Financial Assistance for Respite Care Services

Most respite services are not covered by Medicare or private insurance plans unless the recipient is also receiving hospice services. Many recipients of respite care pay for it out of pocket; however, there are financial assistance options available for some seniors and their families. Some of the most common include:

  • Veterans Benefits: Those already receiving a VA pension may also be eligible for assistance paying for respite care via the Aid and Attendance benefit. The VA also offers inpatient respite care for qualifying veterans for up to 30 days.
  • Medicaid: Medicaid does not cover respite care under its general benefits program. But, many states have waiver programs that can be used to help cover the cost. Check your state’s Medicaid guidelines and waiver programs to see if your state offers respite care benefits.
  • Medicare: Medicare generally does not cover respite care, but it does in certain circumstances. When used in conjunction with hospice care, Medicare will cover a respite stay of up to five days at a time in a nursing home or hospital.
  • Long-Term Care Insurance: Long-term care insurance, a type of private insurance, typically does cover respite care. Policies differ in what exactly they will cover, so be sure to check the details of your plan.
  • Life Insurance: Life insurance benefits are typically not accessible until after a person’s death. But, if needed, there are ways to access the funds while the person is still alive. Some families decide to do this as a means to pay for senior care. Be sure to seriously consider the pros and cons of accessing one’s life insurance benefit early before withdrawing any funds.
  • Local Resources: Some senior centers and churches provide adult day care services, often on a sliding-fee scale, especially in low-income areas where there is more access to government funding for aging services. Contact your local houses of worship, senior centers, and Area Agencies on Aging to see if any respite care assistance is available near you.

How To Choose a Respite Care Provider

Once you make the decision to try respite care, you need to begin the process of finding a provider. You have a few options for locating respite care providers:

  • Friends and Family: If your loved one does not have serious medical conditions and just needs a watchful eye, friends or family members may be able to handle their respite care.
  • Agency: You can find a respite care provider through a home care agency. Agencies simplify the process by connecting you with providers with skills that meet your needs, and conducting background and licensing checks for you.
  • Individual Provider: You can also seek out a respite care provider independently. You will save some money by avoiding agency fees, but will also have to handle things like background checks on your own.

Whether you use an agency or find a provider yourself, there are a few things you should keep an eye out for:

  • Licensing: If your loved one needs any type of medical care during their respite care, be sure the provider has the necessary skills and licensing and that it is up to date.
  • References: Always ask the provider for references from previous families or facilities with whom they have worked.
  • Screening and Evaluation: If you do choose to work with an agency, ask questions about how their employees are screened and evaluated.
  • Reliability and Clarity: The way a provider acts during the interview process can be indicative of how it will be to work with them moving forward. Look for someone who is reliable, prompt, and very clear about the services they will provide for your loved one.

Questions to Ask Respite Care Providers

The interview process with potential providers typically starts with a phone call, but it is always a good idea to meet providers face-to-face or via video call for an interview before hiring them to care for your loved one. During the interview process, be sure to ask the provider the following questions:

  • What is your experience providing respite care?
  • Do you provide a written care plan?
  • How do you react in emergency situations?
  • What special skills do you have that make you a good fit for the job?
  • Do you have a backup if you are ever unable to provide care?
  • What is included in the stated cost?

While this is not a fully comprehensive list, these questions can help you determine if the provider is the right fit to care for your loved one.

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