What Is Respite Care and How Do I Get It?

Caring for an aging loved one can be very rewarding. However it can often be challenging and exhausting work. Everyone can use a break from time to time which is where respite care options come in. Respite care is short-term or emergency relief for primary caregivers. This can be just a few hours for the primary caregiver to go on some errands or a weekly plan to give them time off. Setting up respite for a primary caregiver can be vital for their health. According to an AARP survey only 14 percent of family caregivers set up respite services, even though 38 percent of them believe doing so would help them. 

If primary caregivers decide to take on the full efforts of caring for a loved one by themselves, they could be at risk for caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude. This condition affects many different caregivers across the world. Symptoms include withdrawal from friends and family, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless, and helpless, and many others. This affliction not only affects you but also the loved one you are caring for. Now that we have established what respite care is and why you should get it, we will discuss how to get respite.

STOP before you even think about contacting people; you are going want to plan! First, you are going to want to figure out how much respite you are looking for. Do you just need a day off for an appointment? Maybe you want weekends off from caring for your loved one. You should have in mind how often you would like respite before you start your search. You should also get an idea of what day(s) of the week you need and what time(s). If you are doing multiple weeks, do you have a planned end date? The second step in creating an action plan is to think about what help your loved one is going to need. Do they just need someone to check in on them and make sure they had a meal today? Or do they need help in the shower and being transferred? Make sure to write these tasks down in a list for your respite caregiver. Finally make a list of potential respite options. This should include their name/ or company name, a primary phone number, and any notes you have/or will take on them. Now you could do this all on a spreadsheet, word document, or by hand but we have a better option. The Ultimate Respite Planner, which includes all of these along with tips for getting respite care started!

The first option is to have family members or friends pitch in. Family and friends can be a great place to start. They are often willing to go above and beyond to help out your loved one, especially if they are related to them. People often feel a sense of duty and attachment to a person’s care if they are related in this fashion. A few added bonuses are if they live close to your loved one or if they have any formal training or certifications. Another benefit of having a family member or friend care for your loved one is that they will often do it for little to no charge. However there are some negatives. If your loved one requires more than companionship and light housekeeping, a family or friend caregiver may be unprepared and untrained. Instead of your mind being at ease on your day off, you may be stressed and worried about how they will handle this new challenge. There is also the potential for the family member or friend to get hurt on the job. Without a workers' compensation insurance policy, you could be  paying for their hospital bills. Finally, there is unlikely a back up caregiver if they are unable to make it. If your caregiver is sick, has car troubles, or other reasons they cannot make it, you will be in charge of finding coverage or you won’t get your respite. 

A second option is volunteer respite programs. These are also a good option for loved ones who mostly need companionship and light housecleaning while you are gone. These include faith-based caregiver organizations and volunteer organizations. Most of the time these volunteers will be a companion for when you are gone, some are willing to do more such as shopping and errands. You can find local organizations across the web, such as Elder Helpers (https://www.elderhelpers.org/). Elder helpers let you search for volunteers in your area and read a bit about the caregiver. They also show what the caregiver is available to do and you can get their phone number through the website. Another option is the Michigan Community VNA (https://www.vna.org/) which like the previous example, can provide companion care along with light housekeeping. You can contact the organization toll-free at  1-800-852-1232. We suggest that you do ask if they drug test their volunteers and perform background checks. Typically these organizations only do so on request or do not at all. These checks can be very important since you are allowing them into your or a loved one’s home. Another thing to note is, similar to a friend or family member, there is often not a backup plan or training plan in place. This could end up leaving you without respite if the caregiver is unable to make it to the home. 

A third option is a form of adult daycare. These are often good options for loved ones who need a little extra help, especially those with dementia or Parkinson's'. These types of programs include social centers, medical programs, and specialized centers. The staff that works in these centers are typically trained to do more than just clean and cook. They are able to assist with medications, change adult undergarments, aid with bathing or showering, utilize forms of lifts, and aid a loved one in a restroom. These facilities are often well equipped to help anyone throughout their day. The downside is that these are often not a free option. Since these staffs are trained and often certified, adult daycare centers will charge a fee to take care of your loved one. Another downside is you do have to transport your loved one there or arrange to have them transported to the center. 

A fourth option is similar to the previous option but more long term. You could have a loved one stay in an assisted living/nursing facility for a short period. Many of the assisted living and nursing facilities offer short term respite stays. They often suggest this for loved ones who are recovering from a hospital visit or other health circumstances. They are also available for when a primary caregiver takes an extended vacation. As previously mentioned these facilities are able to help with a variety of care levels including assisted living, memory care, and even skilled nursing. Similar to the previous option, you will have to pay for your loved one’s stay in an assisted living or nursing facility. However, there is always staff at a facility who can help your loved one at a moment’s notice, your loved one will also have the ability to chat with others during lunch hours and social activities. 

A final option is hiring an in-home care agency. Home care agencies are a flexible option for respite. They are able to offer more skilled one-on-one care in the home. Therefore your loved one does not even need to leave the comforts of home to get care. Home care agencies are also very flexible when it comes to scheduling and caregiver availability especially established companies that have a large caregiver pool. Home care companies are also able to fill in if a caregiver calls off a shift. On top of all of that these caregivers are often fully trained and agencies work to match caregivers with clients around their needs and required time. Also a good home care company will background check and drug test their caregivers to make sure your loved one is safe in the home. Home care companies often charge per hour they are there and rates vary based on the level of care. Most home care companies also have a minimum amount of hours per shift. So if you just wanted to get out for an hour or two, this may not be the best option for you.

After you choose what type of respite care you want to go with you can either go and set it up for the next time you need it (If the option is free) or you can work on figuring out payment for paid options. The most common way to pay for these services is out of pocket or private pay. This is a cash or credit transaction between you and the company that takes money out of the desired bank account to pay for the services. As previously mentioned rates may vary so it is good to do your research before committing to a company. A second way to get respite services paid for is through the Veterans Affairs department. VA Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits provide monthly payments added to the amount of a monthly VA pension for qualified Veterans and survivors. If your loved one needs help with daily activities, or are housebound, find out if you qualify. You can get directions at the VA website https://www.va.gov/pension/how-to-apply/ or by calling their phone at 800-827-1000. Finally, Medicare may be an option for respite if your loved one is already on their hospice services. Respite care is considered part of their hospice plan but they must first meet the requirements for hospice care. This covers a short stay in a medicare-approved facility but does not cover someone coming into your or your loved one's home. 


Additional Resources:

Veterans Affairs: https://www.va.gov/GERIATRICS/pages/Respite_Care.asp

The Ultimate Respite Planner (1)

Ready to plan respite care for your loved one?

Why waste all of your time making a plan on a spreadsheet, word document, or by hand? We have a better option. The Ultimate Respite Planner, which includes all of these steps along with tips for getting respite care started. Click download to get yours today!

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