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Benefits of respite care for the elderly and their caregivers

An overview of respite care benefits, types and funding

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by Jonathan Trout ConsumerAffairs Research Team
old man in a wheelchair with his daughter

According to AARP, roughly 34.2 million adults in the United States provide unpaid care to someone over the age of 50 each year. Long-term caregiving carries with it a fairly heavy physical, emotional and economic burden. As a primary caregiver for an aging parent or loved one, you’re bound to experience exhaustion, stress, depression and sickness. Your health and well being need to be priorities, and giving yourself a break from those responsibilities as needed is key.

What is respite care?
Respite care is temporary institutional or in-home care of an aging loved one who is ill, handicapped or requires around the clock care, providing relief for the caregiver. There are many forms of respite care, including in-home caregivers, adult day centers and extended stay centers. They all allow you to take a break from your daily care routine and manage other responsibilities in your life.

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Benefits of respite care

Respite care lets you do simple things like taking your time to run errands, stay socially active and even take vacations. “Respite” is frequently used as an acronym to outline some benefits respite care can offer caregivers:

  1. Renewal and relaxation: Doing an enjoyable hobby or something that makes you happy regularly can greatly improve your mood and bring a sense of calm to your life. Even just sitting down in a quiet home and watching a movie can be therapeutic.
  2. Energy: Relaxation makes sure you have time to re-energize so you can provide good care and maintain a healthy balance in your lifestyle.
  3. Space: Respite care affords you the opportunity to just get away from the role of caregiver for a few hours.
  4. Pleasure: Sometimes it's hard for caregivers to enjoy life because their aging loved one may not be. Respite care gives you the chance to do enjoyable things with peace of mind, knowing your loved one is being taken care of.
  5. Identity: Respite care helps you maintain your sense of self.
  6. Time away: Extended periods of time away from the caregiving role can give you a refreshed perspective and sense of self. Many people use respite care to take a vacation for a week or more.
  7. Engagement: Social isolation can be a big problem for caregivers. It’s important to stay active with your friends and family on a regular basis.
woman sitting in airport

Common reasons to use respite care

Caregivers commonly use respite care when:

  • They need to travel.
  • They need a break.
  • Their loved one wants a trial for a senior community.
  • Their loved one needs a change of pace.
  • The need to help their loved one ease into permanent senior living.

The most important benefit of using respite care, whether it be short term or on a week to week basis, is that it lets you manage your personal life. Taking a break from being a caregiver to focus on yourself, your other responsibilities and your spouse and kids is key to keeping a healthy lifestyle while caring for a loved one.

Another way you can take advantage of respite care is using the free time to connect with other caregivers in similar situations. If you’re caring for someone with dementia, talking with someone else in a similar situation can help you de-stress, bounce ideas off each other and provide support through solidarity. Go grab coffee or lunch together and refocus and recharge.

older woman getting her blood pressure taken by a nurse

Types of respite care for the elderly

In-home respite care

You can get in-home respite care based around your schedule and unique situation. Care can be for multiple hours a day, overnight or weeks at a time. You can find a caregiver that specializes in specific conditions like Parkinson’s disease, arthritis or dementia. In-home respite services can include companion care and a personal care assistant:

  • Companion care: Companion care consists of someone who can prepare meals, do light housekeeping, help with laundry, pick up groceries or run other errands. They offer companionship to your parent when you’re away.
    • Cost: If you can’t find a trusted volunteer or family member, you can hire someone to provide companion care starting $10 per hour, depending on the type of care your loved one needs.
  • Personal care assistant: In addition to companion care duties, personal care assistants help your loved one with things like bathing, dressing, toileting and grooming. They also help with making sure medications are taken on schedule and can be certified to help with mobility issues.
    • Cost: Personal care assistants cost anywhere from $15 to $40 per hour for part time help and $120 to $200 per day for live-in care, according to The national median for full-time, in-home care was $127 per day in 2016.

In-facility respite care

In-facility respite care involves dropping off or, in some cases, the facility picking up your loved one to go to an assisted living facility for a few hours, overnight or for an extended period of time. In-facility respite services can include adult day services and assisted living respite care:

  • Adult day services: Day services are programs that provide health monitoring, activities, meals, transportation and more, all within a safe environment. Day services are great if you need a full day to run errands or need some alone time. Facilities can be stand-alone adult care centers, churches, hospitals or nursing homes.
    • Cost: Adult day services cost anywhere from $25 to $150 per day, with the national median being $68 per day in 2016. A lot of day centers offer sliding scale fees, meaning they tailor a care program so you only pay for services you can afford. Stand-alone centers usually accept Medicaid.
  • Assisted living respite care: Assisted living facilities, sometimes called skilled nursing homes or continuing care retirement communities, provide room and board for adults who need help with daily tasks. Using an assisted living facility for respite care lets you take extended periods of time away for things like vacation or out of town obligations.
    • Cost: Prices average around $100 to $260 per day with a national median of $119 per day for assisted living and $253 per day for a private nursing home room. The price for assisted living respite care depends on the length of your parents’ stay and the amount of care they need. Most offer full day, overnight or extended respite stays.
older man sitting on the couch with a nurse

How to find respite care

These respite care resources are a great place to start your search for a respite care facility near you:

  • ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center: ARCH helps families locate respite and crisis care services in their communities. They have a free database of respite care services called National Respite Locator. It will show you adult day services and extended stay respite programs. Select your state from the map, input your city or ZIP code and review respite programs near you.
  • A Place for Mom: A Place for Mom connects families to senior living facilities and programs across the United States. They provide a free database of respite care programs broken down by city and state, or you can just browse by state. You can select options like room type and budget for extended stay respite care and budget.
  • has a limited directory for in-home respite care to help you locate companion and personal assistant care. You can also search their assisted living facility database by ZIP code to look for extended stay respite care programs.
  • has an eldercare locator on its website that lets you type in your ZIP code or city and state and select the type of care you need. Searchable topics include adult day services and in-home services. If your city doesn’t pull any results, call their toll free number for suggestions.
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: If your parent or loved one is a veteran, they may be eligible for up to 30 days of respite care. This can be in-home or in a VA community living center. Check the Department of Veterans Affairs Support for Caregivers page for tips, tools and programs.

Please note: These databases aren’t all inclusive and don’t necessarily represent all respite care programs near your location.

group of seniors sitting in a nursing home common area

How to pay for respite care

Many respite programs are funded with state or federal money through partnerships with private organizations. ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center has an interactive map that lets you click on your state and see state-specific respite funding and eligibility opportunities and requirements. You’ll also find state-specific information about:

  • Medicaid and Medicaid waivers: Medicaid waivers are specific to care outside of a facility and are the largest federal source of funding for respite care. States make their own waiver eligibility criteria, which are federally approved. When viewing your state's funding and eligibility opportunities in ARCH’s interactive map, check the section about Medicaid waivers to see if your state has a Medicaid waiver your parent or loved one qualifies for.

    It’s important to note that Medicaid waivers, unlike regular long-term Medicaid nursing home care, are not considered an entitlement. This means even if you meet waiver eligibility requirements, you may be put on a waiting list. You aren’t immediately entitled to those benefits.

  • Public funding charts: If your loved one doesn’t qualify for your state’s family caregiver support programs or Medicaid waivers, check the public funding chart section under your state. There you’ll find a table listing federal- or state-funded organizations.
  • Grants: You can always seek out grants to help cover costs associated with respite care. Organizations like The National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) are funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging and provide grants to states to help caregivers in multiple ways. One way is through the Caregiver Respite Care program. This program can help cover the cost of in-home care, adult day services or overnight residential facilities. This grant is given at the local level through the Area Agencies on Aging.

Bottom line

Providing full-time care to an aging parent or loved one takes a toll on you mentally and physically. Respite care can give you a much-needed break, whether it be for a few hours to run errands, a couple of days for out of town obligations or weeks at a time for a much-needed vacation. You don’t need to take on full-time caregiving alone, and respite care may be just what you need to keep your personal life healthy and balanced.

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Profile picture of Jonathan Trout
by Jonathan Trout ConsumerAffairs Research Team

As a member of the ConsumerAffairs Research Team, Jonathan Trout believes having access to free, comprehensive information on products and businesses is vital to making smart purchasing decisions. He focuses his efforts on researching and reviewing multiple brands across a variety of industries, with the goal of writing unbiased buyers guides to help inform consumers on impending purchases.