Respite Care in Senior Living


Michael Gill

Respite care is a short-term stay in a Senior Living community. These stays can be from just a few days to as long as a month. There are many circumstances where a respite stay is a sensible solution to a family’s caregiving dilemma. The caregiving dilemma usually happens when a person’s caregiving needs are either unusually high, such as with dementia, or have persisted for an unusually long time.

Caregiver Burnout

The primary reason for a respite stay is caregiver burnout when the caregiver needs time off for self-care and restoration. This applies to both spouses and family members. Studies have shown the stress of caregiving can take years off a caregiver’s life, as fatigue, worry, isolation, and self-neglect take their toll. So think of a respite stay as a sanity-saver exercise.
Frequently a caregiver will schedule a break from caregiving around a family event such as an out-of-town wedding or something similar that the care recipient can no longer reasonably attend. Other triggers for a respite stay can include a caregiver’s medical procedure and recovery, construction requirements (broken pipes after the Texas Freeze for example), or a quick vacation getaway.
Another reason for a respite stay is for a “trial run,” to see if such a move would work in the long term. I have to say, I’m not a big fan of “try before you buy,” for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it isn’t a good indicator of whether a long term stay will be successful. First off, no one looks forward to the day they have to move into Assisted Living. So few seniors will admit to liking it. There needs to be a level of commitment by the senior and their family to make something work, and in a respite stay that commitment just isn’t there.
Second, it takes a while to acclimate to a community. This is true for the senior, who must get used to the rhythms of community life, as well as for the community, which needs to become accustomed to the caregiver’s needs and routines. Third, community workers aren’t huge fans of respite, because it can sometimes upset the social balance of their long-term residents. Plus it is a lot of work to bring in a respite resident and requires just as much paperwork as a permanent resident. Communities do respite stays mostly for marketing purposes, hoping for a permanent move-in.


Memory Care and a Respite Stay

Memory care respite stays are the most most challenging, for the obvious reason. The senior with dementia is often less flexible in his or her routine. For these seniors, respite can be disorienting and anxiety-producing, and can trigger post-respite behaviors when the senior returns to his or her home and normal routine. I usually caution people whose loved one has dementia to try a stay-at-home respite instead—if possible. This is where a temporary caregiver comes to the house to stay, and the permanent caregiver leaves to go somewhere else.
This can be more expensive and more difficult to arrange, except when family can be the temporary caregiver. Assisted Living respite stays are easier by comparison, but still require a lot of work to prepare, because of the extensive paperwork, arranging of doctors orders and prescriptions, and general logistical hurdles. Independent Living short term stays are a relative piece of cake because there is no healthcare or paperwork involved.


Hospice and a Respite Stay

Hospice is another reason for a respite stay. Medicare allows hospice to pay for “occasional” five-day respite stays. Hospice will pay for room and board at a community, whether a nursing home or assisted living—but not for continuous in-home care. This is in recognition of the stress caregivers live with when caring for a loved one at the end of life. Caregivers can also use this respite stay for “important life events.” Usually hospice respite stays can happen about every three months.
In the Austin area the costs I see for respite care range from about $160 to $250 per day for Assisted Living and Memory Care. Many communities require a minimum stay of two weeks, but some places will do a respite stay for as little as a few days. Usually if a respite stay goes on for longer than a month then the community wants to call it a permanent move and wants a community fee paid. But these things are often negotiable, and every community sets their own rules. Skilled Nursing respite stays are more flexible, as they charge by the night, and respite stays are very similar to their short-term rehabilitation stays. Nursing Home costs generally range from between $180 per night for a shared room to about $300 per night for a private room, though the most expensive places can charge up to $500 per night.
At any rate, respite stays can in some cases be an invaluable service, in other cases be useful but not much fun, in still other cases a necessary evil, and in some cases respite stays can something that simply doesn’t make sense. If you have questions about a respite stay or are considering a move to Assisted Living, Independent Living or Memory Care in the Austin Texas area, please call us at (512) 630-7133.

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Respite Care in Senior Living

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