Respite care: What is it and how do you organise it

Check in a dictionary and you’ll see the word respite described as a short break from something difficult. That’s exactly what respite care is all about – giving a carer a rest from the difficult task of caring for someone.. Although caring for an elderly parent or relative can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, it is also physically and mentally exhausting. Taking a break from caring is not only sensible, it’s essential for your personal health and wellbeing.

When you’re caring for someone it’s paramount you make caring for yourself a priority. You can’t care for them properly when you’re tired or your patience has been stretched to breaking point. And let’s be honest, your parent will probably benefit from having a short break from you too, especially if you’re feeling the strain.

There’s a lot to think about when you’re organising respite care. In this article you’ll find out what kind of respite care is available and how to go about getting the help you need. You’ll also get an insight into the possible financial effect having respite care for your parent might have if you receive a carer’s allowance.

What exactly is respite care?

There are several different types of respite care. These can vary from a few hours at a daycare centre to a week or two spent in a care home. Choosing the right kind of respite care and making sure the care is provided by professionals is vital for your and your parent’s comfort and peace of mind.

Respite care options you may want to consider are:

  • Homecare given by a trained carer employed by a reputable care company
  • An adult sitting service provided by volunteers from a charitable organisation
  • Weekly or even daily visits to a local daycare centre
  • Asking a family member or friend to substitute you on occasion
  • A temporary stay in a care home

No matter how brief the respite care you choose is, it’ll give you a well-deserved chance to recharge your batteries and put yourself first for a change. Your parent may well appreciate the change in routine too. But there’s also the possibility that they won’t.

The challenge of taking time off from caring

Aside from struggling with our own feelings of guilt, it can be difficult for an elderly parent to accept being cared for by someone other than the person who does it on a regular basis. If they’re ill, feeling fragile or are suffering with dementia, having someone in their home they’re unfamiliar with can be confusing and in some cases, even frightening. Going into a care home, for no matter how brief a period, can be at best unsettling and at worst traumatic for them.

Dealing with your parent’s worries about respite care won’t be easy. You’ll also have your own concerns to deal with too. The biggest concern most carers have when they hand the reins over to someone else is whether or not the person they care for will receive the right care while they’re absent. That’s understandable, but not a valid reason for not taking the break you need.

Other factors that make taking time off from caring a challenge are the availability and expense of respite care. Finding a care home that offers respite care and has a place free can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. It can be even more difficult when the person you care for has complex needs.

Whether you’re looking at respite care in a care home or considering home care, care provided by someone outside the family doesn’t come cheap. While the expense of respite care can seem astronomical, especially if you’re on a limited income, don’t let it be a barrier. You may be able to get help to fund or partly fund respite care from your local council or a charitable organisation.

How much does respite care cost?

The cost of respite care varies greatly depending on the service provider and the type of care the person you’re looking after needs. Cost can also vary depending on which area of the UK you live in.

Here are some examples of the average cost of respite care:

  • Homecare visits per hour – £25
  • Sitting service – £0 to £800 per week
  • 24-hour live-in homecare – £1000 – £1500 per week
  • Daycare centres – £0 when funded by local councils or charitable organisations like AgeUK

Using a daycare centre or a voluntary sitting service allows you to take a few hours off from caring, but they’re not the solution if you want to take a longer break or go on holiday. Unless you have a family member prepared to step in and take the strain while you have a rest, respite care is going to be costly. You’ll need to plan in advance to organise it too especially if you want to apply for help in funding respite care.

Getting help to fund respite care costs may seem like a lot of long-winded local authority rigmarole, but going through the paces will be worth it. To get any help you will need to apply to the social services department of your local council for a carer’s assessment.

During the carer’s assessment procedure social services will evaluate how you’re coping with various aspects of caring and what impact caring for someone is having on your personal life. They will assess your eligibility for benefits like carer’s allowance, a personal budget and what assistance you may be able to get from other care services under their jurisdiction.

The decisions made based on the carer’s assessment are presented in a care and support plan which is individual to you and your needs as a carer. It’s not the same as a needs assessment which is an assessment that can be given to the person you care for.

To be able to receive any help towards funding respite care you may also need to have a means-test. A means-test assesses your financial situation and whether or not you’re able to cover some of the cost of respite care yourself.

If you already receive a carer’s allowance taking a break from caring won’t necessarily affect your eligibility for this type of benefit payment. While it’s usually okay to take four weeks off from caring in any six-month period, it’s always best to check what’s what with the Carer’s Allowance Unit. You can also get helpful advice from an AgeUK financial advisor if you’re unsure or need assistance with money matters.

Practical tips for successful respite care while you’re away

Preparation is the key to successful respite care. It’s also something you should really do as soon as you start caring in case of an emergency. If you’re taken ill or unable to be with the person you’re caring for, for whatever reason, you need to have a back-up plan in place.

The first thing to do is prepare a care plan that you can leave in your parent’s home. The more detailed it is the better care someone else will be able to give them even when they have to take over at short notice.

Things you should include in a care plan are:

  • Details of all medication, the dosages and when it should be taken. Make sure to update when there are changes.
  • Information about any food allergies or intolerances
  • Your parent’s daily habits. This can include anything and everything from what time they like to get up, to their bathing and dressing routine to their favourite TV show.
  • Contact numbers for their doctor’s and dentist’s surgery as well as their hairdresser
  • A calendar showing any upcoming appointments they may need to attend
  • Names and addresses of any social club or daycare centre your parent attends and when they go
  • Phone numbers for transport services like taxis or voluntary drivers
  • An emergency contact number if you are going to be unavailable

It’s also a good idea to put any important paperwork a stand-in carer may need in an easily accessed folder.

Work out a budget for any expenses that may be incurred while you’re absent. Although all carers who work for reputable care companies are thoroughly vetted, you may not feel inclined to leave a stash of cash or bank cards laying around. If you’re looking for an alternative, and one you can keep control of, check out a Post Office Travel Card. You can charge the card with the amount you want and keep an eye on expenditure via the card’s corresponding app.

If you’re considering homecare, choosing a care provider is not something to leave to the last minute. The majority of care companies offer free assessments so make the most of those to find out what different companies have to offer, how much their services cost and how far in advance you’ll need to let them know you’ll be requiring their services.

Many care homes have limited places for respite care and some don’t offer the service at all. If your parent will need to go into a care home while you take a respite, you’ll need to do some research on the services provided by the care homes in your area. You’ll also need to contact them about availability and quite possibly reserve your parent’s stay well in advance.

In summary

Caring for someone is a highly demanding and difficult task, and one you must take the occasional break from to be able to do properly. The respite you take could just be a couple of hours to run errands or swim laps at the local pool. Or it might be a two-week break in the sun to fully relax and recharge. Whatever respite you take, you’ll feel all the better for it and coping with the strain of caring will be a lot easier.

Common questions

  • How long can respite care last?

Respite care can last anywhere from an hour or two to a couple of weeks or more if needed.

  • Who pays for respite care?

Respite care is mostly paid for by the people who need it although there are social service funds and charitable grants available to help depending on a person’s circumstances.

  • How quickly can respite care be arranged?

Respite care, unless it’s for an emergency, can take a few weeks to organise so don’t leave it to the last minute.

  • What are the disadvantages of respite care?

The main disadvantage of respite care is the cost. It can also be worrying for a carer if they’re not sure their parent will receive adequate care while they’re absent.

  • What is the difference between respite and care home?

Respite care can be provided in a person’s home by a family member or trained caregiver. Respite care can also be provided on a short care home stay.

  • How much is respite care per week in the UK?

Respite care can cost anywhere from £0 if it’s provided by a volunteer to £1500 for 24 hour live-in support.


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