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What is Respite?

Many families don't consider taking care of an older or disabled loved one a burden. Rather it is part of a cycle of caring that began with their own parents taking care of them. However, it can take a toll on a caregiver's physical and emotional health if they don't get an occasional break.

In a nutshell, respite means having someone else look after your loved one while you take a break. Respite can be:

  • Going to an exercise class
  • Having coffee with a friend
  • Attending your other child's school program
  • Going on a date with your spouse

Respite is not the same as hospice. Hospice is a service for people who have a terminal illness and who have less than 6 months to live. (Learn more about hospice.)

Where Does Respite Happen?

Respite takes place either in your home (or that of a family or friend) or at a location in your community.

In Your Home

You can have someone come to your home to take care of your loved one. They can visit, read or take a walk together. Basically, they make sure your loved one is safe and cared for while you are away.

Some respite organizations offer additional services, such as:

  • Homemaking, which is light housework or chores
  • Personal care, which is help with things such as brushing teeth, getting dressed, bathing or shaving
  • Medical care, which can include help with medication or using medical devices.

In Your Community

If your family member needs services that you can't have provided in your home, you may need to find a place you can drop them off for a few hours. Some may provide overnight or weekend services and some may provide more medical or nursing care. Options include:

  • Adult day care centers are where you bring your loved one to a facility where they participate in supervised activities and often are provided meals and snacks. Some facilities are allowed to provide medical services.

  • Specialized camps that serve either adults or children with special needs have trained staff to provide medical care.

  • Assisted living facilities may offer overnight stays where trained staff supervise your loved one. Some provide medical care.

  • Nursing homes also may provide extended respite care. And, because they have medical staff, they can provide medical care.

In the case of a family emergency, some respite providers will offer crisis or emergency care either at a facility or in your home.

Who Can Provide Respite?

Respite can be provided by a variety of people. Sometimes, a family member or friend can step in when you need a break. Other times, you may need to hire someone.

However you arrange for respite, it's really about what is right for you and your family member.

In Texas, informal caregivers, also called family caregivers, provide an estimated 3.2 billion hours of service a year, and their services save the state an estimated $34 billion in healthcare costs annually.

[A Profile of Informal Caregiving In Texas (PDF)]

The Friends and Family Plan

If you decide to use family or friends to help out, you, the primary caregiver, need to help prepare them for the task. HelpGuide.org suggests using these strategies:

  • Talk openly and regularly with the volunteers. Keep everyone up to date on your loved one's needs and condition. Family members who don't share the day-to-day caregiving experience may not fully appreciate the situation.

  • Encourage family members to evaluate what they can reasonably and honestly do. Changing roles and varying resource levels can affect family involvement. Welcome different viewpoints, accept limitations and be willing to try alternate strategies. Share your list of needs and take advantage of all offers to help.

  • Recognize your own feelings and discuss how tasks are assigned. Harboring resentment when you need more help can lead to your burnout and impaired health. Ask directly for concrete support and specific time commitments. Consider establishing an online calendar to organize relief and reconfirm schedules.

  • Use technology to bridge distances. Try free video conference services to hold family meetings at times that work for everyone. Create a web-based community to share updates and explore options.

Using Paid Caregivers

If having family or friends help out does not work in your situation, you may need to find paid caregivers. However, this does not necessarily mean you have to foot the bill.

Some government programs — such as those funded by Medicaid, Medicare, Veterans Affairs or the state of Texas — may provide free or low-cost respite care. To find out if your loved one may qualify for federal or state services that provide respite care, call 1-855-937-2372 to talk to a trained professional about your options.

Visit our searchable list of respite providers and programs in Texas. It includes all types of providers and you can search it based on the type of service you need and where you live.

How to Choose a Respite Provider

Once you find a provider that interests you, the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center suggests the following:

  • Conduct a telephone screening
  • Follow up with an in-person Interview
  • Ask for references
  • Check references and do a criminal background check
  • Evaluate costs and financing

Find a Respite Provider

Tips for Working Caregivers

If you are a caregiver who works outside the home you are likely to run into caregiving situations that collide with work responsibilities, such as appointments in the middle of the workday or emergencies that require immediate attention.

And just because you work, doesn't mean you don't also need a break. Working all day and then coming home to care for your family member can be stressful as well.

AARP recommends these strategies for caregivers who work:

  • Talk to your employer about your needs related to caregiving. Are there regular appointments that you need to be available for? Make it clear you are committed to your job and want to find ways to remain productive.

  • Find support in and out of work. Join community caregiver groups for emotional support and seek out local resources for help. Coordinate caregiving tasks within your family and support network.

  • Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others, which includes getting enough sleep, eating properly and taking a break when you need it.

AARP also advises caregivers to learn about legal rights or protections available to working caregivers. These may include:

  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law that gives an employee 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of an immediate family member. The FMLA also protects your job when you return to work at the end of your leave. Be aware that not everyone is covered by this; check with your employer to see if you are.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits your employer from treating you differently if you're caring for someone with a disability covered by the ADA. That means if the boss allows coworkers to take time off to care for their kids, they have to let you do the same with your disabled parent.

The UC Hastings College of Law has a WorkLife Law program that includes a hotline (1-415-703-8276) for family caregivers who feel they have faced discrimination due to their family responsibilities. Lawyers who answer the hotline can discuss your situation, and while they do not provide legal representation or advice, they can refer you to an attorney specializing in this area of employment law, if necessary. You also can email hotline@worklifelaw.org.

Where can I Learn More?

Updated: July 19, 2017