Understanding Respite Care: A Break for Family Caregivers

Written By
Drew Harrington

Key Notes:

  • Caregiver burnout can impact our own mental and physical health, and our ability to provide our best care
  • Respite care can provide anywhere from a few hours to weeks of time off for a family caregiver
  • Respite care can be provided in the home or at a facility, with costs varying by location and the level of care needed
  • Free respite care resources exist for most family caregivers
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Stacy has an overwhelming schedule as a result of balancing her responsibilities as a mother with those as caregiver for her 86-year-old mom. She’s constantly on the move, juggling the demands of getting her kids ready for school and shuttling them to sports practice, with dressing and feeding her mom and taking her to doctor's appointments.

All of this became even more challenging after Stacy sustained a back injury in a fender bender. She struggled to manage her pain for weeks, pushing through it to continue to provide for her children and mother.

Finally, she raised the white flag and arranged for her brother to fly in and take over the caregiving responsibilities for a few weeks, allowing her to focus on taking care of herself. This respite care provided Stacy the time she needed to attend physical therapy appointments and prioritize her own health. It served as a lifeline when she needed it most.

Caring for a loved one can be draining, even if we’re in perfect health. The 53 million Americans who act as family caregivers need and deserve occasional support to avoid burnout and prioritize our own physical and mental health. 

What is Respite Care?

Caregiver burnout is real. We start to feel it when we neglect our own needs while caring for our loved ones. It can manifest in various ways, including:

  • Physical: Constant fatigue, headaches, changes in sleep patterns, weight gain/loss
  • Emotional: Increased irritability, anxiety, depression
  • Behavioral: Loss of interest in hobbies, neglecting our own healthcare, alcohol/drug abuse

When we begin to notice these signs, it’s probably time to consider respite care.

So what is it? Think of a respite caregiver as a substitute teacher stepping into the classroom to give the main teacher a break. A respite caregiver continues to provide care to our aging family members and allows us to step away from caregiving duties for a few hours, days, or even weeks.

This short-term break from caregiving can be used to catch up on sleep, take a vacation, tend to our own health needs, or spend time with friends and other family members. 

Respite care is an essential component of caregiving, as it allows us to prioritize our own physical and mental health while ensuring that our loved ones continue to receive the care they need. 

By taking care of ourselves, we’re able to provide better care for our aging family members.

Types of Respite Care

Prices listed below are national averages from Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey. These costs refer to the fees paid to a caregiving agency for providing care. If people hire respite caregivers directly, the average cost is around $20 per hour.

A graphic showing various types of respite care and their costs

In-Home Respite Care

Self-explanatory - a respite care provider comes to the home of the person needing care to provide assistance. In-home care can include help with:

  • Activities of daily living (ADLs)
  • Companionship
  • Skilled nursing care

Keeping our loved ones in familiar spaces provides comfort and minimizes disruption to their routine. While this can be helpful to all caregivers, it’s particularly valuable if the person needing care has dementia or Alzheimer’s. New environments can often be confusing or anxiety-inducing for people with these conditions, which makes in-home care especially valuable.

In-home respite care is offered at varying price points depending on the level of care needed.

Companion Care: $30/hr

Companion care is most suitable for individuals who can handle most daily tasks on their own but would benefit from having someone around for company. 

This type of care ensures our loved ones aren’t alone in case of emergency and provides someone to interact with throughout the day. Companion care may also include some assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as dressing or transportation to appointments, providing support and reducing the risk of accidents.

Homemaker Care: $30/hr

Homemaker care is a slightly more advanced variation of companion care, as it also includes assistance with more complex ADLs, such as meal preparation, cleaning, and running errands. 

This care helps to keep our family member’s home running smoothly while supporting their daily routines. Homemaker care can relieve us of arduous chores, creating time in our schedules for other responsibilities or activities.

Home Health Aide Care: $33/hr

Home health aide (HHA) care provides extensive support, including assistance with ADLs such as bathing, dressing, and toileting. 

HHAs are trained professionals capable of managing complex care needs, ensuring that our loved ones receive comprehensive care in the comfort of their homes.

Skilled Nursing Care: $25-130/hr

Skilled nursing care offers the most comprehensive support. Typically, this care is prescribed by a  healthcare professional for a limited period, often for a few days a week, and is covered by Medicare or insurance. 

This form of care includes support with medication management, wound care, infusions, and more. The hourly rate varies depending on the nurse’s qualifications and the services provided.

Adult Day Care: $95/day

Adult day care provides a structured environment where our family members can enjoy activities including arts and crafts, music therapy, exercise classes, and social events. 

The staff at adult day care centers are trained to cater to different needs and ensure that everyone’s abilities are taken into account. 

This environment is especially beneficial for older adults in need of stimulation and/or socialization outside of their typical support network.

Assisted Living Facility: $176/day 

Assisted living facilities are designed for those who need more advanced care, but still desire a certain level of independence. These facilities offer overnight stays and provide professional, 24/7 supervision and medical assistance. 

Services typically include assistance with ADLs, physical therapy, and medication management. 

Assisted living is a great option if an extended break from caregiving is needed, as it offers peace of mind knowing that the care recipient is in a supportive, semi-independent environment.

Nursing Home Facility: $285-320/day for semi-private or private room

Nursing homes are best suited for those who require more intensive medical care and constant supervision. 

Similar to assisted living facilities, nursing homes offer physical therapy and medication management, but go a step further by offering specialized medical services. 

Opting for a nursing home should ensure that complex health needs are constantly managed by skilled professionals, offering a secure and medically-focused environment for extended caregiving breaks.

Paying for Respite Care

Respite care is often paid out-of-pocket, because most insurance plans don’t cover in-home care. Some government programs, including the ones listed below, offer coverage: 


If the person we’re caring for qualifies for Medicaid, we can contact our state’s Medicaid program to ask if they offer waivers to cover respite care. 


Medicare is testing a new model that provides payment for respite services up to an annual limit of $2,500 per care recipient. It’s called the GUIDE Model and is available to family caregivers caring for an aging family member with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Respite care costs depend on the level and duration of care needed. For more on cutting costs to make room in your budget for services such as respite care, check out our article on reducing the financial stress of caregiving.

Free Respite Care Resources for Family Caregivers

Not all respite care comes at a cost. With a little planning, we may be able to find fill-in caregivers who will relieve us for free.

Local and National Organizations

Volunteer organizations or places of worship in our communities may offer free respite care services, usually for companion or homemaker care. 

These services are an excellent financial choice, as they range from free to low-cost. In addition to care, local organizations such as community centers and senior care facilities often provide information to help families find free services. Here are some great organizations to contact:

ARCH National Respite Network

This resource offers a directory of respite care services across the country, with detailed info on different types of respite care, eligibility criteria, and contact info for local services.

Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs)

This database helps families find resources in the community, including (but not limited to) respite care, caregiver education classes, and support groups for family caregivers. More information on support groups for family caregivers can be found here.

National Volunteer Caregiving Network

This organization provides free caregiving services for families in need.

Elizabeth Dole Foundation

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation offers a comprehensive list of respite care resources specifically for military families. Visit their website to explore available options and determine eligibility for various programs.


For urgent needs, call 2-1-1 to connect with local resources and support services. This hotline is available 24/7 and can provide information on various social services, including emergency respite care.

Friends and Family

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family members or friends! Many caregivers find that our support network is willing to help once they understand the situation. 

A good tip is to set up a rotating schedule, so several different people can take turns helping. This way, the load is shared, and no one person feels overwhelmed. A shared Google Calendar can keep everyone in the loop.

Building and leaning on a strong support network can make a world of difference in a primary caregiver’s well-being.

We Deserve This

Respite care is a crucial resource, offering much-needed breaks and time to rechange while ensuring our older family members continue to receive the care they need. 

By understanding the different types of respite care, the levels of care available, and the associated costs, we can make informed decisions that best suit our family’s needs. And the time we carve out for ourselves will make our role as caregiver more manageable and sustainable over time.

RubyWell’s guide to Resources & Services for Family Caregivers contains even more helpful information that can make this journey through family caregiving a little easier; check it out.

At RubyWell, we’re developing a suite of tools to help all family caregivers save, find, and earn money:

Our Family Leave Finder provides state-by-state information on family leave laws, ensuring you’re aware of your rights and options. Our Medicare Advantage Supplemental Benefits Navigator will help you make the most of your loved one’s health insurance benefits, including finding and funding respite care. Ultimately, we’re developing compensation solutions so that every family caregiver will be a paid caregiver. If you’d like to be among the first to hear about our products, join our waitlist.

I hope this article has been helpful for you. Feel free to share it with family or friends who may need a break from caring for an aging family member.

Reviewed By
Drew Harrington

Drew Harrington is a startup operations intern at RubyWell. He found his passion for caregiver equity through his grandmother, who is an Alzheimer’s educator, registered nurse, and former family caregiver.

Reviewed By
Elyse Dasko

Elyse Dasko is a leading communications strategist in age tech, caregiving and the longevity market.