We have often written about the mixed bag that is family caregiving. Some people find it rewarding, while others find it mentally, physically, and emotionally draining — or some combination of all of these feelings. Though sometimes logistically challenging, it’s important for family caregivers to take care of themselves too, which may involve finding ways to take a break from their caregiving responsibilities. Let’s examine some of the solutions for respite care like adult day care, short-term respite stays in long-term care communities, and other options.

What is respite care?

Respite care is the overarching term used to describe a short-term break for unpaid caregivers — from a few hours to a few weeks. This type of care may be provided in-home, in an adult day care setting, or in an assisted living or skilled nursing care facility. Depending on the scenario, it may be paid care or unpaid.

Allowing a family caregiver to continue to work, attend appointments, or take some well-deserved “me time” to spend with other loved ones or friends, respite care can help caregivers maintain some degree of normalcy or recharge their own battery mentally and physically.

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Adult day care

An adult day care program can be a helpful solution for family caregivers who need to continue to work during the day, have daytime appointments to attend, or just need a break. They offer participants appropriate care as well as entertainment, socialization, and companionship, all of which can be extremely beneficial for the care recipient. Such programs typically are open during normal weekday business hours, and many provide transportation to and from their location.

Generally speaking, there are two types of adult day care:

  • Adult social day care provides an array of social activities and recreation opportunities, as well as meals and some minor health-related services, if needed (such as medication administration).
  • Adult day health care includes social and recreation opportunities, as well as more intensive health and therapeutic services for participants with more serious medical needs.

The cost of an adult day care program can vary from location to location and depending on the person’s specific care needs. You might pay anywhere from $25 to over $100 per day, depending on the program’s services and its geographic location. (The 2024 national average cost for adult day care is $98 per day, according to Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey.)

Most adult day care center costs are not covered by Medicare, but some state and federal programs may offer some financial assistance, such as Medicaid, Older Americans Act, or the Veterans Health Administration.

Contact the Eldercare Locator (1-800-677-1116) to connect with your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA), which can help you identify adult day care options in your community. The National Adult Day Services Association (1-877-745-1440) is another helpful resource for general information about adult day care programs.

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Respite care in long-term care facilities

Some long-term care residential communities may also offer short-term respite care stays. Such residential respite care programs can operate within an assisted living or memory care community, hospital, nursing home, or other specialized facility, depending on the care recipient’s needs. They can give family caregivers a planned break or emergency help for one night to several weeks.

The cost of a short-term respite care stay in a long-term care facility can vary widely depending on the type of care needed, the facility, and the location. According to Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey, the 2024 average cost per day for an assisted living community is $181. A semi-private room in a skilled nursing home will average $294 and a private room will be around $330.

While Medicare and most private medical insurance plans will not cover most overnight respite care, some long-term care insurance policies, veterans’ programs, and Medicaid may help subsidize the cost of this unique type of care. If the care recipient is in hospice care, however, Medicare will cover a portion of the cost of up to five consecutive days of respite care in a Medicare-certified hospital or skilled nursing care facility. In any of these scenarios, any costs not covered by insurance or other assistance programs will be the responsibility of the care recipient and their family.

To find long-term care facilities that offer short-term respite care stays in your community, visit Eldercare Locator to locate an Area Agency on Aging (AAA) or an Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) near you. 

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In-home respite care options

Some people prefer to find respite care that allows the care recipient to remain in the home. This option can be attractive if the care recipient has extensive mobility issues, but also may allow the person to be more comfortable in a familiar setting. In some situations, it may be one of the more cost-effective respite care solutions too.

There are agencies that can provide trained, paid in-home caregivers for anywhere from a few hours to several weeks in order to give a family caregiver a much-needed break. Depending on the level of care the care recipient requires, the cost of such in-home respite care can begin to add up quickly, however.

The 2024 average cost for 44 hours a week of in-home care (a little over six hours per day, seven days a week) is between $195 and $213 per day, depending on the person’s medical needs. Overnight stays will usually bump these costs up even more. And in many cases, Medicare or insurance does not cover the cost of in-home respite care.

(Note: If the care recipient is homebound and in need of health-related care services, Medicare Part A [hospital insurance] and/or Medicare Part B [medical insurance] usually will cover some part-time or “intermittent” in-home skilled nursing. Learn more about what in-home care service costs might be covered by Medicare.)

If cost is an issue, family caregivers also can ask for help from another family member or ask a friend if they could lend a hand. Of course, every situation is different, but in many cases, people understand the stresses of family caregiving and the need for breaks; they likely will be happy to help out if asked.

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Other caregiving options to give family caregivers a break

Family caregivers must remember that their health and wellbeing are just as important as their care recipient’s. Just as the flight attendant reminds you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, unpaid caregivers should take breaks in order to recharge their own battery during what can be a stressful period of time.

In addition to the respite care options outlined above, some areas provide free or low-cost community- or faith-based respite care options. These might be programs offered at a senior center or within a house of worship. In more rural areas, cooperative respite care programs may be offered in which families with similar caregiving needs take turns assisting one another in order to provide breaks.

The ARCH National Respite Network and Eldercare Locator are helpful resources to learn about different respite care options in your area.

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