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Ask the Senior Care Expert | What is Respite Care?

In most family caregiver situations there is a single person who does the majority, if not all, of the caregiving. Even if there are multiple adult children involved there is almost always a “point person” who is in charge. Often, there is only one person involved.

Tim Golden, BrightStar Care

Maybe that one person is an elderly spouse or maybe it’s the only adult child living close to his or her elderly parents. Life can be exhausting for that primary caregiver, especially if that person is the only caregiver and is on duty 24/7. How does one go about living any semblance of a normal life when everything they do must come after caring for that loved one? In a more practical application, how does the caregiver buy groceries, get their hair done, go on vacation, or even go to church if they are the primary caregiver for someone who cannot be left alone and for whom they are responsible? It can be an extremely frustrating situation, not to mention the stress of having to be on duty without a break.

According to, the definition of “respite” is “a delay or cessation for a time, especially of anything distressing or trying; an interval of relief”. I like that at the end – “an interval of relief”. In today’s’ terms respite care is nothing more than a break for the primary caregiver. Most people seeking respite care are thinking in terms of a place where their loved one can go stay for a period lasting from a few days to a week or longer with the idea that the arrangements are not permanent and at some point that loved one will return home. Traditional respite care is provided off-site in a residential setting like an assisted living facility.

I would make an argument, however, that respite can take many forms and the traditional respite care is much more limited than the wide array of options available today. If respite is “an interval of relief”, respite could be someone, a friend or volunteer or professional caregiver, that comes in as needed or on a regular basis to give the primary caregiver a break. In my mind respite is really getting temporary relief from the never-ending stress of being someone’s primary caregiver 24/7. Whether respite care involves a vacation or a trip to the hair salon, that break is absolutely necessary to maintain sanity and quality of life for the primary caregiver. Respite care could be on an as needed basis or as regular as every week on a regular schedule – whatever the family and primary caregiver need. Respite care is an absolute necessity and can take many different forms.

If this all sounds great but you’re asking where to turn for help, I would suggest first asking other family members for assistance. If the family is unavailable, you might start with your local church for volunteers that might be willing to help. Sometimes there isn’t anybody or asking others is just not feasible. Often people volunteer with good intentions only to find out that what they’ve gotten into is more than they’ve bargained for. Or you might just want family and friends to feel free to stop by without an obligation to jump in. If that’s the case, you may want to look into professional caregiving options.