The dictionary defines respite as “a rest or break from something.” Respite care gives caregivers a much needed breather by having other caregivers take over their duties on a short-term basis. As more and more baby boomers become responsible for the care of their aging parents, respite care has increasingly become a topic discussed in churches, the workplace and at kitchen tables, as a way to support and help caregivers.

Who Receives Respite Care?

Although respite care also applies to caregivers of physically or mentally disabled children and younger adults, most recipients are seniors. If you are faced with an aging parent who can no longer take care of him/herself, you’re not alone.  Results of the four most recent National Long Term Care Surveys indicate that over 18 million adults were caring for someone over the age of 65 in 2003 and that number has been growing steadily since. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, 48 percent of all care recipients are spouses of the caretakers, however, parent recipients are expected to surpass spouses in the near future.

 Who Are Their Caregivers?

Women make up over 60 percent of all caregivers and 72 percent of spousal caregivers in the U.S. When a spouse is unavailable the responsibility usually rests with a daughter or the wife of a son. Adult children report spending between 15 and 30 hours a week caring for a parent and the need for respite grows as the number of hours increase. When a parent moves into a family member’s household, one person in that household typically takes on the role of “primary caretaker,” while the other family members act as “secondary caretakers.”  Unfortunately, an aging parent is often brought into the home without adequate consideration given to the family’s quality of life or the effect of disruptions in the family’s normal routine. In many cases respite care not only relieves the primary caretaker,  but also the entire family.

Types of Respite Care

The two types of respite care are:

In-Home Care – A friend, another family member, a volunteer or a professional caregiver provides short-term care in the home. This typically involves general care, but may also involve memory care and include a medical component.

Out-of-Home Care – The elderly family member is moved from the home to an assisted living facility, hospital, adult daycare center or convalescent care center. Out-of-home respite care can be structured in accordance with the medical model to provide health and therapeutic services, or as an adult daycare program that provides basic memory care and social engagement through one on one and group activity.

The History of Respite Care

Families have always taken care of their aging, sick or disabled members. However, the increase in the life expectancy of Americans from 45 in 1900 to 78.2 in 2003, has given new meaning to the “older generation.” Various scholarly studies on caring for aging parents that emerged in the 1960s/1970s spawned a succession of efforts to address the issue.

  • 1980 – The U.S. Dept. of Health and Services, together with the Association of Retired Persons (legal name later changed to AARP), carried out the first national survey of informal caretakers.
  • 1989 – Connecticut became the first state to pass legislation giving workers the right to an unpaid leave with job protection in order to care for a parent, spouse or child.
  • 1993 – Passage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • 1996 – Establishment of the National Alliance for Caregivers.
  • 2000 – Creation of the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) that allocates resources to establish support systems for family caregivers.
  • 2003 – California passed the country’s first family leave policy that allows workers-turned-caregivers to receive payment from state disability insurance funds.
  • 2006 – The U.S. Congress passed the Lifespan Respite Care Act to promote state development of  “coordinated systems of accessible, community-based respite care services for family caregivers of adults and children with special needs.”

Back to Top

Find Senior Care
Select Care Type

Enter Location
Select Distance