What is Respite Care?

In the United States, there are currently 40.4 million unpaid caregivers for adults aged 65 and older.1 Many of these caregivers are family members providing care for a loved one. For family caregivers, burnout is a frequent and serious concern.

Caregiver burnout begins when the quality of life of the caregiver declines. Respite care attempts to alleviate this by providing care for a few hours or a few days a week, allowing a needed break for the unpaid caregiver. It is considered a care substitute. 

Main Points

  • Respite care is substitute care that provides a break for the unpaid, permanent caregiver of the elderly or an individual with a serious medical condition. 
  • Respite care offers services tailored to the individual needs and may benefit both the caregiver and the person being cared for. 
  • Respite services may be provided in-home, in long-term care facilities, and/or adult day care centers. 
  • Respite care costs can vary; however, adult centers are typically the least expensive option and in-home respite care the more expensive option.  
  • Respite care coverage may vary and usually comes out of pocket; however, there may be some cost coverage options. 

What is Respite Care? 

Respite care is a type of substitute short-term care that provides a temporary break for the permanent caregiver. While most respite care involves care of the eldery, it can also be for caregivers providing care for an individual with cancer, a traumatic brain injury, dementia, stroke and blindness. Care can be arranged for as little as a few hours a week to as long as a month and takes place in various settings such as in-home or in an assisted living facility. 

Respite care may be helpful in a variety of situations such as if the caregiver is experiencing personal side effects of burnout, lack of life and caregiving balance, and in the case of a personal emergency or travel where care cannot be provided.

What Services Does Respite Care Provide?

Respite care offers a variety and level of services that are tailored to individual needs. Some examples of respite care services may include: 

  • Safety: supervision at home. 
  • Companionship: alleviates loneliness and isolation. 
  • ADLs (Activities of Daily Living): assistance with tasks such as: dressing, bathing, eating, and grooming (this is a standard service offered by many respite care providers, often referred to as custodial care). May provide opportunities for exercise. 
  • Medical Assistance: help with basic medical care such as first aid and assistance with medication. Some providers offer a higher level of medical care or dementia care. 
  • Home Care: assistance with household chores such as housekeeping, laundry, and cooking.   
  • Transportation: assistance with driving to doctor’s appointments or running errands such as grocery shopping. 

Who Benefits From Respite Care

Respite care benefits the caregiver by providing a solution to personal situations (such as in an unforeseen emergency or burnout) which takes attention away from senior or patient care. Respite care is also beneficial by providing temporary relief of duties while still allowing the primary caregiver to remain in control of care. It can offer personal relief, peace of mind, improved mental health, and help prevent caregiver burnout. 

Seniors and individuals with medical conditions or special needs being cared for by family members benefit from respite care by experiencing professional, personalized, and flexible care and services when needed.  

Types of Respite Care

In-home Respite Care

In-home respite care is care that is provided by a respite care agency in the home of the patient / family caregiver. 

This type of respite care may be beneficial for those who are sick or home-bound. Care is tailored to the individual client. Care may be scheduled or provided as needed to provide a short-term break for the caregiver within the setting of a familiar and comfortable place for the patient. 

The downside of in-home respite care is that it is only offered by a single caregiver. Some services (such as medical care) may require an assistant and can increase cost of care. There may also be minimum hours per day required to use in-home respite care service.  

Long-term Care Facilities

Some long-term care facilities, such as assisted living or skilled nursing facility, provide short-term respite stays and set aside a number of beds for this type of care. 

This is a great option for caregivers who need to travel and feel more comfortable leaving a senior in a facility that provides trained staff for services and safety. 

This option is not available in all long-term care facilities. It also requires research into which facilities offer short-term services and what the facilities are like. It is also not provided within the comfort of home; however, some may find that to be a benefit due to added safety and services. 

Respite Care Facilities 

Respite care facilities provide short-term stays in residential care or assisted living facilities. Sometimes these are called “residential respite care.”  

Much like long-term care facilities, this option allows the permanent caregiver the option to leave a senior overnight in a safe environment with trained staff who provide services such as meals and housekeeping as well as assistance with ADLs and medication management. This type of care is also considered a good trial run for moving a senior into assisted living with access to more care. 

Respite care facilities may vary in their number of stays allowed. Much like long-term care facilities, respite care facilities are not provided in the comfort of home which has its benefits and downfalls. It also requires research into what the facility is like and what it offers. 

Adult Day Care Centers 

Adult day care centers provide non-residential respite care during the day. 

Much like day care centers, adult day care centers may provide enriching opportunities provided by professional staff such as: safety and supervision, assistance with ADLs, meals, socialization, therapies, and medical rehabilitation. This type of center allows the caregiver some free time during the day for personal needs. Some centers may even arrange pick up and drop-off before and after a daily session.

The downside of adult day care centers include the limited hours of care during the day as well as transportation to and from the center. 

How Much Does Respite Care Cost?

Respite care costs vary depending on factors such as: agency type, services required, and how long respite care is used.  

Adult day care centers are typically the least costly, averaging around $1,600 per month 2 or $74 per day.3  

Respite care offered in assisted living facilities are a little pricier, averaging around $140 per day.3 These costs depend on factors such as: location of facility, care level required, and length of stay. Some facilities may require a minimum number of stays. 

In-home respite care typically costs the most averaging $25 2 per hour or $150 per day for a medical care aide.2 Service fees depend on: location, agency used, as well as level of care that is required. A health aid with higher medical skills may cost more per hour. Sometimes two respite care providers are required for services. 

Does Medicare or Medicaid Cover Respite Care?

Medicare typically does not provide coverage for respite care. However, when used along with hospice care, Medicare under Part A may cover respite care in a facility such as a nursing home or hospital for up to five days.

Medicaid also does not typically provide coverage for respite care. However, in certain states, there are programs that waive costs of respite care using local funding. Check with the Medicaid website to see if a state offers such waivers. 

Does Insurance Cover Respite Care? 

Health insurance plans vary greatly. Respite care may be covered, partially covered, or it may be an out of pocket expense under a policy. Insurance company representatives may provide details regarding respite care coverage. 

Long-term care insurance, which is a private insurance policy, may or may not cover respite care. Many policies vary and it is important to check with plan benefits and coverage.

Life insurance policies traditionally are collected after a policy holder’s passing. However, funds may be taken out and used to pay for respite care while the policyholder is alive. It is important to understand the policy terms of accessing funds early.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federal program for low income seniors and disabled individuals, may qualify for in-home respite care coverage. 

Additional Coverage

The Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) provides respite care for inpatient settings for qualified veterans. Care is typically up to 30 days. Those receiving a VA pension may also apply for respite care coverage through the Aid and Attendance Benefit

There are some respite care grants as well as funding provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.

There may also be local resources such as community centers, churches, and senior centers which provide resources to respite care. Find national respite care here


  1. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/18/5-facts-about-family-caregivers/
  2. https://www.assistedliving.org/respite-care/
  3. https://www.forbes.com/health/healthy-aging/respite-care/
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