What is respite care?

Respite care for carers looking after elderly individuals.

Are you currently caring for an older family member? Whether this is on an occasional, part-time or full-time basis, it is important for you to be aware of respite care and its many benefits, as this can be a vital resource for carers when they need it most. 

Here, we are breaking down what respite care is, who can benefit from it, what duties are included in respite care, what the benefits are for carers and for the care recipient, the different types of respite care for older adults, what respite carers do and don’t do, and more. 

At Home Instead, our aim is to help people age positively and in place by bringing expert care to their home. For nearly 20 years, we have been providing the highest standard of care, and creating industry-leading training programmes for our Care Professionals that are accredited by nursing and medical professionals. Today, we are the world’s largest global home care network, supporting over 100,000 older adults with personalised, tailored care at home. So whatever questions you have about respite care, we can help.

What is respite care?

Respite care is sometimes referred to as replacement care, or carer’s breaks. It is designed to offer temporary relief to those caring for an older person, or a disabled or sick individual, in a short-term capacity. This gives carers a support system should they need or want to take a break from their care duties, such as to attend to personal needs, manage other life responsibilities, or to go on holiday or attend a special event. 

Your loved one may need help with things like personal care, setting up daily activities, managing medication, or attending social events, and whether or not you are the only one helping them with these things, you could eventually find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Caregiver stress can lead to burnout, but respite care can help prevent this by promoting overall wellbeing for both the caregiver and the care recipient. As a carer you may not be able to leave your family member easily, so ensuring your loved one receives proper care is of the utmost importance. 

When creating the Care Plan, respite care should be seriously considered early to ensure you are not blindsided by its need later on. According to the Social Care Institute for Excellence, 36% of carers were not aware of what services were available to them, and for those caring for less than a year, 47% did not know what services were available. 

For this reason, understanding that respite care can benefit both the caregiver and the care receiver is so important. It offers both parties a chance to socialise outside of the care relationship, and can anticipate and interrupt carer burnout which is a common experience for many carers. You can read more about this in our guide: Carer’s Burnout: Knowing You Need Respite

what is respite care

Who is respite care for? 

Respite care serves individuals of all ages, from children with care needs to older adults requiring extra support to maintain their independence at home. As mentioned above, respite care benefits two parties. Firstly, it can help a person who requires temporary care due to:

Secondly, it is arguably most beneficial for carers.Many people who require care become dependent on their partners, their children, or other relatives, and when these family members spend so much time caring for their loved one it can help to give them back some free time so they can maintain their mental and physical health. 

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 71% of carers have poor physical or mental health, and research suggests 55% of carers report suffering from depression due to their caring role. It is also suggested that caregivers who experience strain have a 63% higher mortality risk than others. For this reason, it is crucial to utilise this extremely valuable resource if you feel your life is being negatively impacted by caring duties. Respite care can help to maintain your health, wellbeing and social life while ensuring your loved one continues to receive the necessary care and attention when you are not around. 

What does respite care include? 

Respite care mirrors other types of domiciliary care that can be provided at home, including personal hygiene or medical care. It brings together a range of services tailored to cover the diverse needs of each individual, and enables continuity of care while the person’s regular caregiver takes a break. Respite care might include things like: 

  • Personal care, such as getting washed and dressing each day 
  • Offering support to help the individual maintain daily activities they enjoy 
  • Managing medication and other health needs 
  • Home management and light housework 
  • Offering companionship to maintain social interaction 
  • Mobility support so the person can safely move around their home
  • Transport to social activities and other appointments 
  • Round-the-clock care for those requiring support at all times
  • Providing mentally stimulating activities (particularly helpful for those with dementia) 
what is respite care

What are the benefits of respite care?

There are many benefits of respite care, both for the person receiving it and for the regular carers involved. Many caregivers struggle with feelings of guilt when leaving their loved one, or feel uncomfortable leaving a stranger to care for them, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest respite care offers benefits to everyone from caregivers to care receivers. 

For the person receiving care, the benefits include…

  • Continuity of care should their regular carer need time off
  • Continued independence while living at home 
  • Opportunities to socialise with new people 
  • Potentially new daily activities or experiences (if agreed) that provide additional mental stimulation
  • Opportunities to try out alternative care services or types of care to see if something else could be a better fit 
  • A chance to spend quality time with loved ones without them needing to provide care
  • A feeling of safety and reassurance by always having someone around even if their loved one is not 
  • A chance for the care receiver to raise anything they are not comfortable telling their family member in their typical care routine 
  • Their usual carer or family member will be able to continue providing the best care through regular breaks 

The benefits for the person caring for their loved one include…

  • The ability to attend social events without worrying or having to leave early 
  • The opportunity to go on family holidays safe in the knowledge that their loved one is taken care of at home 
  • A chance to attend to personal matters such as work commitments – research shows 75% of carers in employment worry about juggling work and care duties
  • A chance to simply take a break from carer duties for any reason without compromising on the quality of their loved one’s care
  • Renewed energy and wellbeing through the chance to engage in self-care activities and hobbies 
  • Less stress and reduced chance of reaching burnout stage
  • A chance to spend time with their loved one in a non-care capacity, to maintain your familial relationship 
  • A chance to spend time away from their loved one to give both parties space if they feel they need it 
  • Reduced loneliness and isolation which many carers often experience 
  • A chance to focus on an upcoming big life change, such as a house move or a new baby, without worrying about their loved one’s care 

What types of respite care are available?

There are several types of respite care available to cater to the diverse needs of caregivers and individuals requiring temporary help. These include: 

  • At-home care – Home care can be organised by your local council or paid for independently, and this means a respite carer will take over caring duties within the person’s home for a set period of time, such as one week so you can go on holiday, or one day a week as an ongoing day off for the regular carer. You can read more about live-in respite care in our guide: The Role Of Live-in Respite Care
  • Care home residential stays – Temporary stays in care homes or nursing homes can be arranged, which means the regular care offered in these facilities will be extended to the person during their stay there. This option offers round-the-clock care and supervision if needed. 
  • Sitting services – Charities such as Age UK offer sitting services, which means a trained volunteer can sit with the person for several hours to provide necessary care and companionship to give regular caregivers a break. 
  • Day care centres – Run by local councils or charities, these centres provide opportunities for older adults to socialise with other people and take part in activities during the day while their regular carers take a break.
  • Emergency respite care – Sometimes carers will have emergency situations come up that they have not planned for, or things they cannot get out of. Planning ahead so you know what emergency respite services may be available in these cases can be useful if you ever need someone to take over quickly. 

You can read more in our guide: The Benefits Of In-Home Respite Care

what is respite care

What does a respite carer do?

A respite carer will be a trained professional the same as other carers, but they will work on a temporary basis and will be skilled in quickly picking up necessary arrangements and providing care to someone new. 

A respite carer may help with daily activities like getting the person washed and dressed, making food for them, providing activities or socialisation opportunities, administering medications (if appropriate), and offering companionship while the person’s usual carer is away. They may also understand the need to provide compassionate emotional support while the regular carer is away, and reassure them that everything is in hand. 

Respite care will look different for everyone depending on the Care Plan, the needs of the individual, and the plans of the carer. For example, you may hire a respite carer to provide overnight care several nights a week so you can ensure you get a proper, full night’s sleep those evenings. Or, you might arrange for someone to pop in to make your loved one’s dinner each night so you can get home to put young children to bed. Or you could have a respite carer who covers all caring duties for one week a few times a year so you can go on holiday or take time off to recharge your batteries. 

Whatever support you need, you can create the best respite care arrangement to suit you. 

What does a respite carer not do?

A respite carer can provide most or all of the same services as the person’s regular carer will, although there may be certain limitations based on their training. For example, they may be unable to perform certain medical procedures or administer some medication. Discussing your loved one’s needs at length with the agency in charge of finding your respite carer is important to ensure you receive a carer with the qualifications and training to provide exactly what your loved one needs. 

Remember, respite carers will only provide care on a short-term basis. If the care needs extend and become a long-term arrangement, this should be discussed with the carer or the agency you hired them through to establish what the best ongoing arrangement will be. 

According to a 2018 survey by Carers UK, 33% of carers said their need for regular breaks was not considered in their last assessment, and highlighted that the effort and bureaucracy involved in seeking support can be off-putting for those already stretched thin. At-home respite care can be bespoke to suit the needs of each individual, so if you need to arrange this you can discuss your requirements during your Care Needs Assessment, or reach out to the Home Instead team to remove the effort and complication from arranging respite care. 

what is respite care

Our highly trained Care Professionals can provide the flexible care you need, and by doing so, your loved one can receive continuity of care while you maintain your mental and physical health throughout your caring journey. 

Home Instead is an award-winning home care provider and part of a worldwide organisation devoted to providing the highest-quality relationship-led care for older people in their own homes. Arranging care for yourself or your loved one shouldn’t be stressful, so whatever questions you would like answered, feel free to reach out to the Home Instead team to discuss your needs.