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Respite Care

Respite Care

Respite is a temporary break from caregiving. It can range from a few hours to a weekend or more, and may occur in your home, another home, or a community setting. Respite typically occurs on a planned basis, however sometimes emergency care is needed.

More than 1.5 million people in North Carolina help a family member or friend with a long-term illness or disability. If you are one of these caregivers, you should consider respite services much earlier than you think you need them. Respite is most helpful if you use it before you become exhausted, isolated, and overwhelmed by your responsibilities.

Do I Need Respite Care?

Caregiving is hard work, and many caregivers do not know the short and long-term consequences of “doing it all alone” because they are overwhelmed with the daily tasks and responsibilities. Respite is a well-deserved break. Respite can be flexible. It could involve taking your loved one on a community outing while you remain at home, or having a respite provider stay overnight for a weekend vacation. The most important thing about respite is that it helps families enjoy their lives more.

Respite Care makes you a better caregiver!

Respite lowers family caregiver stress levels and increases overall family well-being, relationships, and stability. It also reduces hospital costs and helps delay nursing home or assisted living placement for your loved one.

How Should I Use Respite Care?

Using respite does not automatically lead to wonderful benefits to caregivers. You have to use respite effectively. Follow the steps below to make the most of your respite.

Use respite early

Don’t wait until you are overwhelmed and isolated with your caregiving duties.

Plan regular breaks

You want to have enough respite to regain some energy to continue caregiving duties.

Carefully plan your breaks

Use your respite time to do something you truly enjoy or something that you have missed out on because of caregiving. 
Write down one to three specific goals of what you would like to accomplish during your respite time. Your goals can be anything (sleeping, cleaning, going to lunch with a friend, etc), but they must be attainable during the respite time that is available to you. Choose activities that:
  • you have always enjoyed doing
  • you did before you became a caregiver but may not have been doing lately
  • have religious or spiritual meaning to you
  • may improve satisfaction with caregiving
  • may reduce the stress you might feel from caregiving
  • may increase your respite time
  • encourage you to use your respite more regularly.

After respite, ask yourself if you accomplished each of the goals and if you are satisfied with your effort at accomplishing each goal. Be honest with yourself, and use this information to revise your goals for next respite time. Caregivers who use their respite time to do what they enjoy feel less burden and more satisfaction with their caregiving role.

Accept other forms of assistance

Respite is most useful when paired with other  services, such as caregiver education and emotional support.

How to Find Respite Care Programs

There are many opportunities for respite. You may prefer that respite be provided in your home or in a community setting. Respite alternatives may be available through a local agency, a community program, or through an individual respite provider. 

Lifespan Respite Voucher Program

This program reimburses eligible family caregivers up to $500 in respite care services annually. Priority is given to low-income caregivers who have not had a break in the last six months and have no other in-home assistance.
For more information, visit the Lifespan Respite website.

Project C.A.R.E.

Also known as Caregiver Alternatives to Running on Empty, this program is for individuals caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. Family consultants assist caregivers with education and resources.This program also reimburses eligible family caregivers up to $1500 in respite care services annually, with up to three vouchers of $500 each.
For more information, find your local provider.

Family Caregiver Support Program

This program provides support to unpaid, informal caregivers. Caregivers are eligible if they care for a person with Alzheimer's or a related dementia or a chronically ill person age 60 and older. Caregivers can also be grandparents or other adults caring for a relative under age 60 with disabilities. Services can include information and referral, caregiver counseling, support groups, caregiver training, respite care, and more.

First in Families

First in Families (FIF) provides support to any family where a family member has a developmental disability or delay or has a traumatic brain injury.
For more information, find your local FIF chapter.

Medicaid Programs

Different Medicaid programs provide respite as one of their services. These programs have specific eligibility criteria. For more information about Medicaid, visit the Medicaid eLibrary page here.
This Medicaid program, also known as the Community Alternatives Program for Disabled Adults, is for adults with disabilities who prefer to remain in their primary private residences rather than nursing home placement.
For more information, visit the program website.
This Medicaid program, also known as the Community Alternatives Program for Children, provides home and community-based services to children at risk for institutionalization in a nursing home.
For more information, visit the program website.
Innovations Waiver

This Medicaid program help individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) live a more independent lifestyle.

For more information, visit your local LME/MCO.


This Medicaid program, also known as the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, is a managed care program for older adults. Participants visit a PACE Center that includes a primary care clinic, therapy services, personal care, and dining services.
For more information, visit the program website.
To complete an application, contact a PACE center.

VA Caregiver Support

Offers training, educational resources, and other tools to help caregivers succeed. Veterans who require a caregiver may be eligible for up to 30 days of respite care each year. This care can be offered in your home, at a VA community living center, at a VA-contracted community residential care facility, or at an adult day health care center.
For more information, call the Caregiver Support Line at 855-260-3274 or find your local support coordinator online.

Types of Respite Care

Respite care can be formal or informal and in-home or out-of-home. Respite programs may offer an available bed in a health care facility for extended respite or an aide for a few hours in the family's home. In addition, respite services may be available to families through formal programs that hire and train their staff or may be available to families through informal networks, such as volunteer or faith-based initiatives.

In-Home Respite Care:

Home-based Services
Home-based respite services may be provided through a public health nursing agency, a social service department, a volunteer association, a private nonprofit agency and/or a private homemaker service or home health agency. A trained employee of the agency is available to come into the home and offer respite. 
Sitter Companion Services
Sitter services may be provided by individuals who are trained in caring for children or adults with special needs. Often this type of service can be a project of a service organization or specialized agency, such as Jaycees, Junior League, a local Arc, etc.
Consumer-directed Respite

This model is similar to having a friend or relative volunteer to care for a child or adult with special needs. The difference is that the person providing care is chosen by the family and trained by a respite program or the families themselves. Providers may be paid or unpaid. If they are paid, it is often through a voucher program offered directly to family caregivers to allow them to locate, hire, train, and pay their own providers.  

Out-of-Home Respite Care:

Family Care Homes
In this model, respite is offered in the provider's home. This could be the home of a staff person from a respite program, a family day care home, a trained volunteer's family home, or a licensed foster or group home used for respite stays. Offering respite in a provider's home lets the individual get services in a more familiar setting.
Some respite programs contract with existing day care centers to provide respite to children with special needs. Day care centers may be housed in churches, community centers, and after school programs. Not all centers are licensed by the state to provide services. Respite centers utilizing church, mosque or synagogue social halls, community centers, or senior service centers offer similar services for the aging population.
Residential Facilities
Some long-term residential facilities have beds set aside for short-term respite. Some examples of such facilities are community residences, nursing homes, and state-owned facilities. Assisted living programs or nursing homes for the aging population may offer respite for overnight, weekend, or extended stays.
Family Caregiver Cooperative Model
Family Caregiver cooperatives have been developed in communities, especially rural areas, where respite services are very limited. In this type of model, families of children with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses develop an informal association and trade respite services with each other. This model lets families receive respite on scheduled dates and works well for families whose children or other family members have similar disabilities.
Respitality Model
Respitality uses a partnership between the private sector and respite agencies. During Respitality, participating hotels provide the family with a room, a pleasant dining experience, and perhaps entertainment while a local respite program provides respite either in the family's home or in an out-of-home respite situation.
Facility-based respite occurs primarily in hospitals. It provides a safe setting for children and adults with high care needs. Individuals can receive high quality care while remaining in a familiar setting with familiar people. 
Day and/or overnight camps provide a positive experience for children and a break for parents/caregivers. Camps are also sometimes available for adults with disabilities.
Adult Day Centers
Adult day care centers provide a break for the caregiver while providing health services, therapeutic services, and social activities for people with dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, chronic illnesses, traumatic brain injuries, developmental disabilities, and other problems that increase their care needs. Some adult day care centers are dementia specific, providing services exclusively to that population. Other centers serve the broader population.

One difference between traditional adult respite and adult day care is that adult day centers provide respite to family caregivers and also therapeutic care for cognitively and physically impaired older adults.

Generally, participants attend the program for several hours a day, up to five days a week. Most programs do not offer weekend services.


To find help in the NC 2-1-1 database, search by:

Respite Care
Respite Care Subsidies
Family Caregiver Subsidies

Need more information?

If you didn't find what you need on this page or need more information on local resources, dial 2-1-1 or 888-892-1162. Our call specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 


Prepared by: NC 2-1-1/LP

Date Updated: September 4, 2018

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