Respite Care and Why You Need It

By Allison Reynolds
and Laura Coverson

Caregiving is a demanding and difficult job. More than almost any job, the work is never done. It's always something. Very few people are equipped to handle caring for a frail or ill loved one alone; they need help. They need breaks. They need relief. They could use some "respite care."

Respite is by definition - a vacation, a time of peace. Respite care is given when someone other than the caregiver steps in to handle the daily needs of elderly parents, a spouse or child. A respite break allows the caregiver to tend to their own mental and physical health. It is a time for self-care.

As caregiving responsibilities mount, it is important to recognize and accept that you are going to need breaks if you are to go the distance. Respite care should be part of the overall caregiving plan and can be used for anything including sleep, exercise, socializing or your own doctor's visits. In some cases, respite care can be arranged for a long weekend. Respite refreshes, replenishes and improves the quality of care you are able to give. Taking advantage of respite care before you become exhausted, sick or overwhelmed is the key.

Sara Reiss of Catholic Charities in Nevada helps organizations train respite volunteers. Reiss explains that respite care can be provided in or out of the home. "In home care can be made up of any combination of informal family relief, online caregiver communities, volunteer or paid companionship and personal care, or skilled health assistants."

Care outside of the home can also provide a needed break for caregivers. Adult day care programs, residential programs or caregiver support groups that offer relief duty are some of the options. It is important to note that in-home respite volunteers are not a substitute for skilled certified nursing assistants (CNAs.)

Respite Care Benefits Everyone

Respite assistance can be a positive break for both the caregiver and the person receiving care. What are the caregiver's needs right now? Is support with all the responsibilities what you need most? Is it some regular free time? Could you use help with transportation? Track your daily activities and make a list of the areas and times when you feel most overwhelmed and could use a break or help.

Respite care can also address some of the unmet needs of the loved one who is ill or frail. Are there social activities that might get them out of the house? Could they use some mental and social stimulation from someone other than you? Do they need more help with dressing, eating, walking or taking medication? Or perhaps some time away from each other would be good relationship maintenance.

Where to Find Respite Care

Respite Care can be found in almost every community and often for free or at very little cost. Non-profit groups, local community organizations, and support groups are a good place to start. The nation has a network of Area Agencies on Aging that offer a range of resources for the elderly and those who care for them. Check the locator map on the website linked here to find an AAA in your city:

Some caregivers may prefer to organize friends and family into a "respite network" by using tools provided on the internet. "Lotsa Helping Hands" allows the caregiver to start a private webpage to coordinate family, friends and volunteers into a caregiving network: "The Caring Bridge" website seeks to provide emotional and financial support for caregivers, allowing users to journal online, receive emails and posts from readers, show photos and even fundraise to help with the needs of a loved one:

Grants are also available for addressing the need for respite care. The Brookdale Foundation Group, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The United Way and The Alzheimer's Association have provided seed money for respite programs. Federal funding for respite care is available for qualifying veterans and the disabled. Also, some long term care insurance policies cover a portion of caregiving and respite care costs.

The Internet is a good resource for discovering respite care resources in your community. Here are two good places to begin to find the relief you need and deserve:

Allison ReynoldsAllison ("Ali") Reynolds is a freelance writer, blogger and volunteer who has compiled free resources on caregiving and end of life planning available online at She is also a consultant for business start-ups and entrepreneurs with "The Get Smart Group." Ali Reynolds can be reached via email at: .

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