All caregivers need a break from their responsibilities from time to time—especially those who are caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. But, not all caregivers have a large family or a robust support system to help them balance elder care and self-care.
Whether you want to arrange a few hours of respite care each week or you’re looking for a provider to handle temporary care and supervision for a senior over several days and nights so you can take a vacation, there are dementia care services that allow family caregivers to disconnect and recharge. Finding the right fit depends on a senior’s mental and physical health status, whether any other care team members are willing to lend a hand, and the budget for respite care.
Keep in mind that the elder’s funds should be used to cover the cost of respite care. Your services as a caregiver, whether they are paid or unpaid, are helping to delay their permanent move to long-term care and the expenses associated with senior living. It only makes sense that they should foot the bill for the respite care necessary for you to take a well-deserved rest.
Respite Options for Dementia Caregivers Who Need a Break
Professional home care services may provide sufficient care and supervision for seniors who are still in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. However, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your loved one’s abilities, safety risks they face and the nature of your respite.
For example, if your mom has mild cognitive impairment and still lives in her own home, your main caregiving functions might include helping with meal preparation, medication reminders and housework for a couple hours each day. In this case, hiring a home care companion would be an excellent fit to free up your schedule. On the other hand, say you want to take a vacation with your husband, but Mom lives with you and needs near-constant supervision to prevent wandering and ensure her safety. The only way in-home care would work is to hire around-the-clock professional caregivers while you are away.
There are many benefits of home care for dementia patients, namely personalized support and supervision provided in a familiar setting. However, the cost of 24/7 or live-in home care is prohibitive for many families—even on a short-term basis. If other members of your loved one’s care team are willing and able to handle caregiving duties in your absence, then a few hours of in-home care can supplement their efforts. This hybrid approach will mitigate the costs of this option for respite care, which are usually paid for out of pocket.
Adult Day Care
Adult day care is another option that is a bit less customizable than in-home care. Adult day centers usually only provide care during daytime hours on weekdays, but some centers may be open on weekends. This type of elder care is perfect for working caregivers and daytime respite. However, usually someone must able to provide care and supervision overnight during longer absences.
There are adult day centers that specialize in providing care for seniors with dementia, and some called adult day health centers even provide health management and medical services as well. Most adult day care services are paid for out of pocket, but some centers offer reasonable daily rates on a sliding scale or even contract with Medicaid to provide respite options for low-income seniors. Some Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C) may provide partial coverage for adult day services, but they are not required to do so.
Short-Term Respite Stays in Senior Living
While in-home care and adult day care services (or some combination of the two) are excellent respite care options for shorter reprieves, longer breaks may require a back-up care plan with fewer moving parts. Many senior living facilities offer short-term stays in assisted living, memory care and nursing home settings. Some hospice programs even offer inpatient respite programs for family caregivers of seniors who are terminally ill, which may be covered by Medicare.
Figuring out which type of care is the best fit for a loved one’s temporary stay depends largely on their health status and unique needs. Assisted living provides assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) but does not offer 24/7 supervision or medical care, and residents are free to come and go. Memory care offers similar services with the added benefits of staff trained in dementia care, increased supervision and secure units that prevent dementia patients from wandering off the premises. Nursing homes provide the highest level of around-the-clock care, including ADL assistance and skilled nursing services.
Each long-term care facility has different policies for respite stays. Some may offer daily rates while others may have a time minimum, such as a week, for short-term stays. It’s important to work with a facility to learn about their policies and conduct a needs assessment to determine if it might be a good fit for your loved one.
Aside from allowing families to take a break while knowing their loved ones are well cared for, one of the best aspects of temporary respite stays is that both dementia caregivers and dementia patients can experience what senior living is like on a trial basis. This may help set the groundwork for a possible permanent move to a long-term care facility.
Don’t Forget to Vet Elder Care Providers
While taking a break may seem frivolous to some, doing so will allow you to decompress and enjoy yourself, enabling you to be a better caregiver. Building adequate respite into a senior’s care plan is crucial for preventing Alzheimer’s caregiver burnout. If you do not make an effort to reduce your stress levels and engage in life outside of this role, it is likely that your loved one will wind up receiving mediocre care from you or moving into a senior living facility earlier than anticipated—two outcomes that most family caregivers actively try to prevent.
Whether a friend has volunteered their services for a few hours each day or you’ve decided to hire 24-hour home care so you can take a much-needed vacation, it’s important to carefully evaluate your respite care provider(s) beforehand. Putting in the time and effort to ensure your loved one will receive compassionate, high-quality care will help you fully disconnect from your responsibilities and give you invaluable peace of mind during your time “off.”