A Place for Mom
Assisted Living
Memory Care
Independent Living
Veteran Resources

Make the best senior care decision

Senior Respite Care: Short-Term Relief for Caregivers

By Mary SalatinoJune 28, 2021
Share this article:

Everyone’s caregiving story is different. But what many caregivers share is the need for help and relief from time to time to ensure their overall well-being. Respite care — whether provided in your home or through a short-term stay at a senior living community — is a way to help prevent caregiver fatigue and burnout while maintaining a high quality of life for your loved one.

It’s a good idea to know your local options and even try out respite care before you need it. Planning ahead helps you and your aging family member know you have a trusted option for care when you need time off or must deal with an emergency.

What is respite care?

Respite care provides you temporary relief from your caregiving duties when you need a break or extra support. While someone else cares for your elder family member, you can travel, run errands, visit friends, go to the doctor, or simply relax. Respite care can be provided in your home or through a short-term stay at a senior living community. When provided in senior communities, respite care may also be called short-term care or short-term assisted living.

No matter where it’s provided, respite care services typically include assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation, and transportation. Some people also use respite care to allow continued recuperation after a rehabilitation stay.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup, and respite care can be a gift to everyone involved,” says Brenda Gurung, a senior national account manager at A Place for Mom. “It’s an opportunity for the family caregiver to rejuvenate and for a senior to spread their wings in a new setting of care, support, and empowerment.”

Senior living communities and respite care

Many people don’t realize that many of their nearby senior living communities likely offer short-term respite care. And, your loved one doesn’t need to move into a senior living community to get the temporary help you need.

Senior living communities with successful respite care programs often create a comprehensive plan to help ensure the best care for their short-term residents. During a short-term stay at an assisted living facility, your loved one will:

  • Be included in daily activities, socialization, and dining at the facility.
  • Receive personalized care, including non-medical care, companionship, supervision and security, and transportation. Additional services, such as medication management, may also be available.

Tips for booking a short-term respite stay

Scheduling respite care is only a click or call away, but it’s important to research and plan well ahead before booking the care you need. Be sure to give yourself time to fill out necessary paperwork, reserve the services your loved one requires, pack their items, and understand the community’s medication distribution process. Be sure you also do the following:  

  • Set up the stay far in advance. People sometimes book respite stays several months out to accommodate their pre-planned vacation time and other events and breaks. This makes respite care harder to arrange during the holidays and summer vacation months — it’s a good idea to not wait until the last minute.
  • See if there’s a minimum stay requirement. Some assisted living communities and providers offering respite care may have a minimum time commitment, and this could narrow down your choices.
  • Know the admissions process. Be prepared to fill out paperwork, provide your loved one’s information, and take in a lot of information about the community before solidifying a reservation. Communities must comply with state intake requirements, even for a short-term stay.
  • Understand the cost and what’s included. Senior communities set their own respite care rates, and these rates vary. Ask about what’s included in the overall cost — are meals included? What about amenities, activities, and outings?
  • Ask about the medication policy. You may consider waiting before filling your loved one’s pill planner for the stay: Arriving with a large supply of medication might not be allowed under a community’s medication policy. Some communities require that each medication be dispensed individually from the original prescription containers.
  • Decide what items to bring. What exactly does your loved one need to pack? What does the respite care provider offer? Ask for a copy of the community’s move-in checklist to ensure you bring what your loved one needs.

In-home respite care

In-home respite care typically covers a variety of non-medical services for your loved one while giving you the break you need. Most in-home respite care professionals are trained to help your aging loved one with basic daily living activities such as eating, bathing, and toileting. These caregivers can sometimes also assist with transporting your loved one to appointments and running errands.

If your loved one needs a higher level of care, you may need to search for a home healthcare aide. These professionals have more advanced medical training and can be certified to provide more complex care. This level of care may be necessary if your loved one needs medication management.

Home care services are typically billed hourly, and you should be able to book home care around your schedule — for example, if three days is all you need, make that known. If you need more assistance, just ask — a quality in-home respite care provider should be able to accommodate your needs. 

Other respite care options

Depending on where you live, respite care may also be offered through the following:

  • Volunteer organizations. People who love working with seniors volunteer through local and national organizations, such as Senior Corps. Programs like these typically provide companionship and light care assistance for your loved one. 
  • State agencies. The National Respite Network has an interactive map that allows you to view different types of respite care in your area.
  • Adult day care providers. Adult day care services can provide supervision, activities, personal care, and companionship. Although their hours are typically more limited than what is available at a senior living community, adult day care can still be a way to provide caregivers the time off they need. The Administration for Community Living maintains a page on the topic.
  • Supportive care providers. Also called comfort care or palliative treatment, supportive care is more involved and is usually meant for patients recovering from a procedure or other medical intervention. It also often coincides with ongoing medical care addressing a specific concern. Seek medical advice if you think this kind of care may be what your loved one needs.

Financial assistance for respite care

Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for financial assistance to help cover the costs of respite care:

  • Long-term care insuranceDepending on your loved one’s existing plan, coverage is available for home health care, or adult daycare.
  • Medicare. Medicare will pay for short-term inpatient respite care in a Medicare-approved facility such as a hospice facility, hospital, or skilled nursing residence, but the approval process may be complicated and an enrollee may incur costs.
  • MedicaidThis state-run program qualifies lower-income individuals for care services, depending on state regulations. Respite care is covered, but there are complex requirements.
  • VA benefitsSeniors who are eligible for the VA Aid & Attendance benefit and who receive help with activities of daily living, such as bathing or dressing, may receive a supplemental income to pay for these services.

Find senior respite care near you

Contact our Senior Living Advisors to learn more about senior living communities that provide respite care to families and caregivers.

Talk with a Senior Living Advisor

Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.


AARP. Family Caregiving: Care at Home.

National Cancer Institute. Supportive Care.

Supportive Care in Cancer. Concepts and definitions for “supportive care,” “best supportive care,” “palliative care,” and “hospice care” in the published literature, dictionaries, and textbooks.

Mary Salatino

Related Articles