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  • Kasey Cunningham

What is Respite Care, Anyway?

You hear the term, "respite" and you wonder - what exactly does that mean? You are not alone in not knowing or misunderstanding the term. Many family caregivers are unfamiliar with the meaning as well as the importance of respite. Respite care can impact you, as a family caregiver, in a positive way. We want to familiarize you with, and help you gain a strong understanding of respite care. Please read through this post to learn the ins and outs of respite care!

Respite is a short break or rest. The Expert Panel on Respite Research defines respite care for family caregivers as planned or emergency services that provide a caregiver of a child or adult with a special need some time away from caregiver responsibilities for that child or adult, and which result in some measurable improvement in the well-being of the caregiver, the care receiver, and/or family system.

As a family caregiver, your responsibilities are intense and immeasurable. The AARP Public Policy Institute determined that in 2013, about 40 million family caregivers in the United States provided and estimated 37 billion hours of care to an adult with limitations in daily activities. They further estimated that the economic value of these unpaid contributions was approximately $470 Billion dollars.

When considering the 24/7 nature of the role of caregiver, it is no wonder that many family caregivers report to have experienced a decline in their own health, loss of social connections, anxiety, depression, among other challenges. Respite care allows family caregivers to “recharge, catch their breath, reinvigorate” before returning to duties.

The need for respite crosses disabilities as well as ages, thus the term Lifespan Respite. Family caregivers from all backgrounds can benefit from rest, a short break, or "me time."

There are many different types of respite, some paid, and some voluntary. You may seek to hire a person who comes into the home to act as back up caregiver. Another paid option is facility based care - a supervised program that provides care and supervision during daytime "business" hours. Residential group care may also be a paid option. Some group, residential facilities may have space available for overnight, short-term, or long term care. All of these options are available based upon availability in your geographic area.

Unpaid, or volunteer based respite is full of options and can be unique, based on your creativity. For example, some families may form a caregiving exchange, offering to provide care to each other's loved one on a cooperative basis in each other's homes. There are also church groups and organizations that that offer structured social activities and supervision, as well as community organizations offering camps and outings in a supervised environment. Voluntary respite can also be provided by trusted neighbors, friends, and extended family members. In future posts, we will look further into some ways caregivers have creatively developed a voluntary respite network.

Overall, respite care is not a luxury - it is a necessity for strong, healthy caregivers.


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