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Memory Care and Respite Care: What to Know

By Haines EasonMarch 31, 2022
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We would do anything for those we love, even if that means sacrificing all our free time — who wouldn’t when seeing a loved one struggling to hold on to their memories or even their personality?

Caregivers who look after seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia know the work is extremely demanding. However, the caregivers who last longest are the ones who know when to take a break. Memory care and respite care should go hand in hand, as respite care can provide a much-needed break to caregivers and several other benefits.

In this article:

What is respite care?

In its most basic sense, respite care is short-term or temporary care for a senior that provides the primary caregiver a break. That break could be during the morning, for a few days, or even for a few weeks. And, respite care can happen in the home or at a senior living community.

Most importantly, specialized memory care is also available in a respite care format.

Adult day care and respite care: similarities and essential differences

Confused about the difference between adult day care and respite care? That may be because there are overlaps. Consider the following:

Adult day careRespite care
Most often focuses on seniors with moderate to advanced dementia.Focuses on seniors in all stages of their life journey, including those in need of memory care.
Seniors not experiencing dementia will likely feel out of place here.Can offer a supportive, engaging environment for all seniors, including those experiencing dementia.
Full or part-day care, not overnight. Often on an ongoing, weekly schedule (e.g., every Tuesday and Thursday, etc.).Part-day through overnight care that can extend to a month or longer.
Often are freestanding, individual businesses.Often part of a larger senior living community, sometimes one managed by a brand.
Are more integrated with the area in which the day care is situated.Most often part of a senior living community and are more insulated from the surrounding area, though the community may offer excursions.
Transfer to senior living may or may not be feasible or easy.Transferring to senior living can be a smooth process because respite care services are typically located within a senior living community.

What is the value of respite care?

The value of taking a break from caregiving duties can’t be underestimated.

Caregiving takes a toll on caregivers’ health, with less than 50% of caregivers rating their health as excellent or better. Most caregivers report experiencing stress, depression, and emotional problems, and the long-term picture for these individuals is bleak: Caregivers reporting high stress are 63 percent more likely to die than their non-caregiving counterparts, according to a highly cited study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Caring for a senior with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is challenging, even for professionals. These particular caregivers are even more likely than other senior caregivers to experience sustained stress.

So, the value of a break for a caregiver is apparent. But it’s not just the caregiver who benefits from respite care: Your loved one sees benefits too. Respite care offers several benefits to seniors as well:

  • New avenues to socialize
  • Access to more entertainment and activity options than available in the home
  • The opportunity to sample a wider variety of senior living settings

Respite care costs and options

One of the key things to note about respite care is that it’s relatively affordable and flexible by design. According to the 2021 Genworth Cost of Care Survey, respite care costs average about as much as a night’s stay in a hotel.

Respite care in a senior living community

An overlooked benefit of respite care in a senior living community is that it gives your loved one access to all the community has to offer. Better still, you will save money if you opt for respite care in a senior living setting instead of in the home.

In a community setting, caregivers can attend to several seniors at once, lowering the per-hour cost of care. The 2021 Genworth national median cost of adult day services in a senior living community is $78, almost 54% less than the cost of a full day of a home health aide’s services.

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Respite care in the home

The national median costs per hour for in-home homemaker or home health aide services are $26 and $27 per hour and $163 to $169 per day, respectively.

Homemaker services are general household duties that can include meal preparation and routine household care. Home health aide services typically refer to nursing-style care in the home.

The costs above are national, and factors like closeness to a large metropolitan area or a desirable location — think beaches or mountains — may mean higher prices. However, respite care in rural areas or near smaller towns and cities can be much lower than the median prices listed above.

Surprising advantages of respite care

Respite care is designed around the needs of the caregiver. While respite care ensures the care recipient is well attended to, its dual — perhaps even primary — purpose is to provide the caregiver with a much-needed break. Though, beyond a break, respite care opens some surprising doors.

Whether your loved one is scheduled for an afternoon or a week, respite care provides them with a “taste” of senior living. They’ll have access to nearly all of their host community’s amenities, they’ll interact with many of the community’s residents and several staff members, they likely will dine with residents and staff, and they may even choose to participate in scheduled activities and outings.

Beyond providing a sense of what senior living and its diverse offerings are like in general, respite care may allow you and your loved one to “try out” several communities over several weeks and months, depending on the diversity of communities in your area.

Using respite care, you and your loved one may be able to zero in on whether a large, medium, or small community is the right fit. Maybe you’d both prefer a community in an urban setting, or maybe the suburbs are more appealing. As the senior living market expands and diversifies, so does the variety of options you can choose from.

An investment in the caregiver and in longevity

Many people view respite care as an investment in the caregiver. It provides a caregiver a much-needed break and allows them to attend to themselves, connect with friends and family, and organize doctor appointments. It creates time to fit in whatever is needed to help support and maintain a caregiving role in healthy and balanced ways.

An investment in the caregiver’s well-being is an investment in the senior’s well-being. Respite care may extend the ability of the caregiver and their loved one to remain at home together, delaying the cost of full-time senior living — or even avoiding it altogether.

Whether you’re searching for in-home respite care or respite care in a senior living community, A Place for Mom’s local, experienced Senior Living Advisors can help you find the right fit. It’s important to remember that respite care is just a single piece of the complex memory care landscape. Our advisors will take the time to explain all your options: They’ll either connect you with communities to schedule a visit, or they’ll help schedule a time for an in-home provider to come to you.

These services are free to you and the thousands of families that have sought our guidance for more than 20 years.


Cheng, S-T. (2017, August 10). Dementia caregiver burden: A research update and critical analysisCurrent Psychiatry Reports.

National Institute on Aging. (2017, May 1). Caregiving: What is respite care?

Schulz, R., Beach, S. R. (1999, December 15). Caregiving as a risk factor for mortality: The caregiver health effects studyJournal of the American Medical Association.

Haines Eason

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