Adult children who provide elder care for their parents have one of the hardest, sometimes most thankless job imaginable. Providing full time care dressing, cleaning, toileting, and feeding their loved ones - 24/7, 365 days is exhausting for even the most sainted people. So when eldercare givers need a break - either a vacation or for a business trip - it's nice to know a resource - respite care - is available to help.
Enter respite care - designed to take care of elders for short periods of time - either out of necessity or just for a sanity break. Respite care can be as short as part of a day to even a week or longer. The facilities offering respite care range from adult day care to a spare bed in a nursing home to professionals who will come to your home and help out. WIthout this option caregivers are often forced into moving their loved one into an assisted living or nursing home.
Respite care typically costs from between $150 -$300 a day, depending on location and type of facility. Medicare typically does not pay for respite care, although some states like Wisconsin will help pay for low income patients or those with disabilities.
Some families devise informal approaches to respite care. For example the family of Bob Isleib was relieved to have moved Bob to Tallahassee earlier this year, so he could be close to at least one of his children, Susan Cerulean. She has a busy schedule as a nature writer and activist, though. Even though Bob lives in an outside facility, Sue devotes a significant portion of every day to extra care for him, hiring other caregivers and supervising his care in a "family" type setting. When Sue needs to go on a book tour or vacation, other siblings fly in to Tallahassee and spell her. Without that unique form of respite care, Bob would have had to move to a nursing home, which would make everyone unhappy and probably hasten his decline.
Care gives often do not realize that respite care is available as an option. It is primarily used by people who care for loved ones in their home. Mildred Fischer in Wisconsin is one such person. She realized one day that both she and her husband needed a break from caring for her mother, whose condition was declining. As she told the New York TImes, "I knew (my husband) needed a break, and I realized I did too. Much as I love my mother, I'm worried, and (my husband and I) need to take care of each other." Mrs. FIscher has found great relief by occasionally taking her mother to St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, which provides overnight respite facilities.
Another alternative to moving the elder temporarily to assisted living or a nursing facility is home care. Some experts believe home care is less disruptive, since the elder remains in familiar surroundings. Eldercare Services in the San Francisco Bay area has 18 care managers that provide home care.
Many care givers have concerns and feel guilty about putting their mother or father in a facility while they go on vacation or take a break. This concern is often paid off when the elders become confused and unhappy in their new unfamiliar surroundings. The elders might call and complain or become hysterical, piling on the guilt, and begging to be taken back home. In some cases their new care givers report that either the elders improve with new stimuli and challenges, or even if they complain to their children they are happy enough once the call is over. Respite care is credited with helping the elderly stay in their homes longer because the caregiver is less likely to burn out.
Congress passed the Lifespan Respite Act in 2006, but so far no funding has been made available to support respite programs.
For help: Check with your VNA or municipal senior services for resources in your area. Local nursing homes and assisted living facilities often have beds available on a short-term basis as well. Respite care is generally not reimbursable under Medicare, except in certain narrow circumstances. States generally regulate this type of benefits. Check out Medicare.gov or the National Association of Home Care.