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Everyone Needs a Break Sometimes—Especially Family Caregivers

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Respite is one of the most pressing needs of families and friends who take on a caregiving role. The need for caregiver supportive services — including respite care — is only going to rise as the U.S. population ages.

Respite care provides temporary relief from the daily stress of caregiving, such as living with and caring for a grandfather with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. The purpose of respite care is to give the family caregiver time away — to get a break — from the ongoing demands of caregiving while the person who needs assistance continues to receive care in a safe environment. Respite can be provided at home, through adult day services in the community, or by short-term stays in a facility or retreat setting, for example.

As we mark National Family Caregivers Month this November, a new report by an expert panel calls for A Research Agenda for Respite Care. The report describes the need for more research on the role of respite in comprehensive caregiver supportive services and how to improve access to respite options in the community. The report also addresses the need for more research about the types of respite care family caregivers prefer, and how respite affects the health and well-being of family caregivers and those for whom they care. Because each program or funding source defines respite differently, developing a common definition for respite care (at the federal and state levels) is an important first step to advance evidence supporting the benefits and effectiveness of respite services.

In the recent Caregiving in the U.S. 2015 survey, Asian American, Hispanic (22 percent each) and African American (20 percent) caregivers were more likely to use respite services than white family caregivers (12 percent). Family members who live with the care recipient and who experience intensive caregiving situations (those who provide at least 21 hours of care per week) were most likely to say respite services would be beneficial to them. By helping to prevent caregiver burnout, respite services may delay or prevent care recipients from entering a nursing home.

Policymakers, researchers, service providers and employers should keep in mind that providing quality and affordable respite care to families who want and need a well-deserved break from the strains of caregiving is an essential component of long-term services and supports.

Photo: iStock

Lynn Friss Feinberg

Author: Lynn Friss Feinberg, MSW, is a senior strategic policy adviser for the AARP Public Policy Institute. She has conducted policy analysis and applied research on family caregiving and long-term services and supports issues for more than 30 years.





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