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Why Caregivers and their Loved Ones Deserve Respite

By Miriam Rose | 06/11/2019

A caregiver taking a moment to herself

It is likely that at some point in our lives, most of us will be involved in providing care for an older loved one. A commonly requested type of caregiver assistance among family caregivers is respite, accounting for 15% of all assistance requests according to a study by the Family Caregiver Alliance. A variety of situations may give rise to requests for this type of assistance. For example, if we have a career of our own, the addition of caregiving responsibilities may leave us with very little time to manage our personal needs and day-to-day tasks. Or we may be a caregiver in the “sandwich generation” and care for both children and adult loved ones, which may increase our need for respite, due to the amount of our caregiving responsibilities.

The Lifespan Respite Care Act of 2006 defines respite as “planned or emergency care provided to a child or adult with a special need in order to provide temporary relief to the family caregiver of that child or adult.” Respite care can take many forms. We may experience respite when a loved one attends an adult day program in the community, spends time in a residential facility or a paid care worker provides in-home assistance with certain tasks and frees up our time. Respite may also be available through informal networks of volunteers, faith-based groups or family caregiver cooperatives. Whatever type we utilize, the purpose of respite is to give us a short break from caregiving so we may take time for ourselves; in fact, the term “short break” is often used in other countries instead of “respite.” 

Although evidence suggests that respite can be beneficial and enjoyable for caregivers and their loved ones, some who provide care to an older adult do not identify as caregivers, or do not see themselves as needing or deserving of a break (National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) in collaboration with the Partnership for Caring. (2001). Toward a national caregiving agenda: Empowering family caregivers in America). Even many of those who do describe themselves as caregivers may wait to seek respite until late in the caregiving process or until a crisis occurs.

However, use of respite early in our caregiving journeys can help to preserve our health and well-being while reducing or delaying burnout and feelings of exhaustion and isolation due to the chronic stresses of caregiving (ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center. (2018). Annotated bibliography of respite and crisis care studies. (4th ed.). In some cases, respite may even reduce or delay the need for a loved one to be placed in a nursing home or other care facility (Montgomery, R. J. V. (1988). Respite care: Lessons from a controlled design study. Health Care Financing Review, 1988 (Suppl.), 133-138.). If we plan for respite in advance, and on a regular basis, it can also help us make the most of our time off while preparing a loved one for the change to their standard care routine.

According to the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center, “asking for help is a sign of strength.” ARCH provides a National Respite Locator to help caregivers and professionals locate respite services in their community. ARCH also provides many other free resources on its website, such as “ABCs of Respite: A Consumer Guide for Family Caregivers” and “Nine Steps to Respite,” which are fact sheets for family caregivers tailored to different caregiving situations. Additional respite resources are available through organizations such as:

Remember: respite care can help us be better and healthier caregivers!


Update: If you're particularly struggling with finding respite during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have additional tips available specific to COVID respite.

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