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Respite care is care given by a person, group or organisation to provide an unpaid carer with a temporary break from their responsibilities.

In this guide we use the term ‘respite care’ to cover all forms of respite care – from care homes to home care services, and day centres to holidays.

This article provides an overview of respite care, including:

1. Reasons for needing respite care
2. Why is respite care important?
3. Planning ahead for respite care

Reasons for needing respite care

There are many reasons why you, or the person you care for, might want or need respite care.

'Looking after someone is physically draining and emotionally draining, and you need a little bit of respite yourself.' Rachel K's story

For you as carer: it might be that you need a break from caring to rest and recharge your batteries, to deal with other family commitments or due to a breakdown in your own health.

For your relative: the person that you care for might need short-term specialist health care following an illness or operation, or to prevent admission to hospital. They might want to ‘test out’ living in a particular care home to see if they like it before making a permanent move. They might want to take a holiday away from home, but still need to be cared for while they are away.

Why is respite care important?

For you as carer: respite care allows you to take the break that you need, safe in the knowledge that your relative is getting the care that they need.

Being a carer can be very demanding, taking up a lot of emotional and physical energy. Carers often feel worried or guilty about taking time off. But taking breaks from caring is very important, for both the carer and the person being cared for.

It is important not to let your caring role take over your life. Ideally, you should find a balance between caring and looking after yourself, particularly if you have other commitments, such as your own home, family or a job. It is important to look after your own health too. You will be able to provide better care if you are not exhausted and run down.

For your relative: respite care can also have positive benefits for the person being cared for. In some cases it can provide specialist medical care that you are unable to provide – for example, to help them recover from an operation or illness. Attending a day centre or going on a ‘respite holiday’ can be enjoyable, giving your relative the opportunity to meet new people and take part in different activities.

Planning ahead for respite care

Remember that the need for respite care can occur suddenly, so there won’t always be lots of time to research and make decisions. So, it is worth checking what’s available in the area, before you need help. You might want to make a list of local agencies who can provide care at short notice or local care homes that offer respite care.

Emergency contact

It helps to know who you could contact in an emergency – in case, for example, your relative’s main carer is unable to reach him or her due to an accident or sudden illness. This might be a neighbour who could step in for a few hours while proper arrangements are made.

More information

Page last reviewed: October 2017