What is a Respite Stay?

Senior woman holding hands with her caregiver child asking about what a respite stay is.Caregiving is tough a business for the family of an ailing senior — especially as the primary or only caregiver. There’s no such thing as a night off, or a weekend away. It’s a 24/7 responsibility. That’s why a respite stay can be a lifesaver. You may be asking yourself: What is a respite stay?

A respite stay can give caregivers a break when they need it. There could be any number of reasons — they may be exhausted or ill, need time for errands, friends and family, have work responsibilities, need a vacation, to name a few possibilities. Many assisted living and memory care communities offer short-term stays for seniors, known as respite.

It’s become increasingly common for caregivers to become overwhelmed and eventually experience burnout, with many responsibilities to juggle in addition to caregiving for a parent. A respite stay should ideally be used at regular intervals to prevent that from happening. Respite stays can vary from just a few days to several weeks or even months, depending on the caregiver’s needs and your parent’s needs. It’s important to remember to take care of yourself first, or you won’t be of any use to your parent as a caretaker.

It’s best to research your local respite options before you need to avail yourself of their services. In addition, you’ll want to find a community where your parent will be happy and that you can afford. You can finance a respite stay in a variety of ways including private insurance, veterans’ benefits, pensions and monthly income earned by your parent. 

Vetting these communities for respite care is similar to finding a senior living community for long-term care. In fact, a respite stay can also be a good opportunity to try out a community for a permanent move in the future. This way, you can see how your parent adjusts to the change and enjoys the new community. You should visit (bring your parent, if possible!), and see how they operate firsthand. A few questions to consider:

  • Do they have adequate staffing for the number of residents?
  • What are their qualifications?
  • Where are residents sent if they experience a medical emergency?
  • What kind of options will your parent have for living space?
  • Is the facility clean?
  • What are the dining options?
  • Who is on-call in the middle of the night?
  • What level of security do they have?
  • What kind of activities do they offer?

Once you’re confident that your parent’s basic needs will be met, the most important question is whether they would appreciate the environment. While many adult children feel guilty about bringing their parent to a senior living community for a respite stay, the truth is that your parent may enjoy the break as well. They might look at it as a vacation from their own home and routines, and may want to take advantage of facilities they don’t have at home — a gym, a vibrant activities program, professional chefs and more.

Doing this research in advance will make life a lot easier when a need for respite arises. Likewise, it’s also helpful to talk with your parent about respite long before the need arises. It’s vital, though, that you explain to them what they can expect, in detail, as well as when they will see you again. Make sure you let them ask questions until they are comfortable that they understand the process.

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