In Home Care on Monday 12nd Aug, 2019

Everybody needs a break: Why understanding respite care is vital for family carers

Fun activities and outings make respite care centres a big part of many clients’ social lives, while offering their carers a much-needed break.

Many of Starts at 60’s readers testify to the personal challenge of providing full-time care for a loved one in their home. There’s often no choice in the matter – whether it’s your parents or a partner that you care for – you just get on with it because you love them and want the best for them.

But being a carer, especially when your family member or spouse has round-the-clock care needs, is draining on the person providing the care, and many family carers are unable to take time out to recharge their own batteries as often as they should.

That can be the case even when home care services are in place, because home care is not intended to provide 24/7 assistance, leaving the family carer to shoulder the additional duties.

This is where respite care services can provide valuable assistance to family carers, while also benefitting the person who needs care. Respite care services provide anything from a few hours to several weeks of professional care, that allows family carers a much-needed break and time to attend to their own needs, while ensuring the person who needs care is in a safe environment where all of their needs are met.

Glenda Holton, the  team leader of Anglicare’s Southport Respite Centre on the Gold Coast, told Starts at 60 that she saw many family carers on the brink of damaging their own health as they focused on caring for a loved one – and that respite care services could help prevent families from getting to that desperate situation.

“[Respite is] vital, because if the carer gets to the point where they’re going to break, they’re not going to be any use to anybody if they can’t function,” she says. “If we can offer respite to their loved one with Anglicare for a day or two of the week, that gives a carer the opportunity to regularly focus on their own needs.”

There can be barriers to accessing respite care; some emotional and others procedural, as Anglicare’s expert explains. But if you’re armed with the facts, it’s easier to make a start on finding the right respite care to suit your family’s circumstances.

Tackling carers’ guilt

Holton says it’s not uncommon for full-time family carers to feel guilty about taking a break from their duties, leaving them hesitant to access respite care services despite their obvious need for a rest.

“I explain to them [that] If you don’t have a break, who’s going to be there to look after your husband or your wife if you get to the point where you have a breakdown?” she says. “We reflect back to them that they’re not doing anything wrong, they’re doing it for the betterment of both themselves and their loved one. You’ve got to get enough rest and some socialisation so that you’ve got the capacity to keep on doing the important role of being a carer.”

The benefits of overcoming this guilt and giving yourself a well-earned breather are quickly evident, even in short respite situations, Holton says, as soon as family carers start using Anglicare’s services.

“They know [their loved one] is in really good care, doing meaningful activities and mingling with people of their own calibre,” she says. “And they can rest assured they’ve got a few good hours, maybe five hours, six hours … where they can rest or do whatever they choose to.”

Your loved one benefits too

The relief offered to full-time carers is a huge benefit of respite care, but the same services fulfil an important role for the person being cared for too, because the regular outings to a familiar, friendly respite centre restores the sense of community and friendship that sometimes get lost when a person is house-bound .

“Loneliness is a huge thing for elderly people and we enable them to remain independent in a holistic manner,” Holton says of the services offered at her Southport centre. “We meet all their needs, whether it be spiritual, physical, mental or social inclusion. And we enable them to do that by assisting them – we can pick them up from home and assist them in any way they need while they’re with us.”

Holton describes the friendships that are formed through regular attendance at the Southport centre, where there are dedicated groups focused on various activities each week. “Some people come multiple times each week, I’ve even got a lady who comes three times a week!” she says.

The importance of continuing to experience variety in life is considered too, and respite clients are able to reconnect with the sense of excitement that we all enjoy when unusual, fun events are planned. Glenda reflects on the contribution made to clients’ lives through events such as her centre’s annual ball.

“We hire out a really beautiful venue, and it’s always themed, so clients are able to dress up in their best outfits, come along for a dance, have a three-course meal, interact with everybody, have a great night,” she describes. “We pick them up and drive them home.”

Helping a loved one overcome respite care worries

Holton notes that some people who are accustomed to being cared for by a family carer find the prospect of attending a respite centre frightening. As Starts at 60 community blogger Lyn Fletcher notes, for many older Australians, respite care is their first experience of a residential care facility and thus the thought of it can be quite confronting.

In these cases, Holton recommends a gradual introduction to the centre to help your family member slowly overcome their nervousness.

“Trying to cut that cord just for a day or two can be really difficult for an elderly person that’s co-dependent on their son or their daughter,” she says. “Even if the carer brings the client in to have a look, and they can potentially say goodbye at the centre. This allows the client to feel comfortable with our staff and for us to drop them home at the end of the day,  which often helps with the first and most difficult step.”

Fletcher, meanwhile, suggests that ensuring some of your loved one’s favourite personal items accompany them to the respite centre can make the process less worrying. When her 96-year-old mother spent four weeks in respite care, Fletcher made sure her mum’s radio, CD player, favourite “comfy” chair and rug were in her room so she felt more at home during her stay.

Understanding the different types of respite care 

In-home respite care 

Home care providers also provide in-home respite care, usually of just a few hours or a half-day in length (during the day or evening), that allows the family carer to leave the home and attend to their own needs – whether that be some welcome leisure or social time or just to keep up-to-date with their own bills, paperwork or chores.

An in-home respite carer can come to your family member’s home to spend time with them or arrange to take them out to somewhere they’d enjoy spending time.

Day respite care

Day respite is usually offered in either community- or centre-based formats. Community-based respite focuses on providing outings to cultural and leisure events and venues for people with reasonable mobility and a need for social interaction.

Meanwhile, centre-based respite, usually offered in a purpose-built facility, is a safe environment for clients with less mobility or who have symptoms of dementia that prevent them from going out without a risk to their safety. Both formats are designed to provide an opportunity for clients to have meaningful engagements and a sense of community through regular interactions with other people.

At Anglicare’s Gold Coast respite care services, Holton says clients attend events as varied as the mayor’s concert held every year for Seniors Week, to trips to the ballet.

“We also offer gentle exercises, outings to cultural events and hydrotherapy classes,” she adds. “At our purpose-built respite centre, the clients all put their ideas together at the beginning of the year and my role as the team leader is to satisfy individual needs within a group environment.

“So, if this group wants to paint, I have a regular painter come in and she teaches clients how to paint. We have entertainment, guest speakers, celebrate major milestones, we do all that kinds of fun and interesting activities.”

Residential respite care

Residential respite care involves accommodating the person who needs care for a longer period, which can range from a night or two to several weeks. Residential care is often provided at an established residential aged care facility and can provide care for people with high-level needs that may not be suited to in-home or day respite care.

Residential respite care can also function as an interim solution for people who are deliberating a permanent move to residential aged care, or who have made the decision to enter an aged care facility full-time but are still deciding on their preferred location or are waiting for a room to become available.

Starts at 60 blogger Lyn Fletcher says her mother spent four weeks in respite care after suffering some falls at home, amid other signs that she was finding it increasingly difficult to live independently.

“In spite of having a good home care package, with twice daily visits from a carer, who had both set duties like cleaning, shopping and other errands, helping with washing, ironing and washing up, and also attended to other things on a day to day basis – like finding things that she had lost! – it was all getting too much for her and in her own words ‘she was in a bit of a mess’,” Fletcher recalls of her mum.

“Having been in respite care and experienced the relief of not having to do so much for herself, Mum decided that she would like to stay in residential care.”

Emergency respite care

If a family carer has to be away from the home for an extended period or is unwell or otherwise unable to care for their loved one, families can call on emergency respite care services for a short time or for several days or weeks.

Fletcher advises family carers to familiarise themselves with their local respite care facilities so they know where to call should an emergency arise, and she cautions that sometimes the optimum location for your parent or partner may not be available.

“Many respite care facilities have only a few beds available, and these are often booked out ahead of time,” she explains. “They may not be able to go exactly where you or they want to go or get the best room. You may have to take what is available at the time.”

If you need emergency respite care services and don’t have an existing relationship with a respite care provider, you can call the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre on 1800 052 222 during business hours and 1800 059 059 outside business hours for immediate assistance.

How to access respite care

Funding for respite care services is, like funding for a Home Care Package (HCP) and residential aged care, available through the government’s My Aged Care site.

As with a HCP, your family member’s respite care may be handled through the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) or directly by My Aged Care, and will require an assessment of needs to be undertaken by either the Regional Assessment Service or the Aged Care Assessment Team.

However, Ken Chauhan, an aged care concierge with Anglicare, says that many people who’ve received funding for a HCP will be pre-approved for some form of respite care.

Once funding is approved, the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre can advise on your respite care options. The cost of care, and the amount your family member contributes to their care, will depend on whether you’re accessing respite care through the CHSP, as part of a HCP or through a residential aged care funding arrangement.

You can find more information on respite care at My Aged Care. Anglicare also offers a free, no-obligation concierge service staffed by experienced aged care workers such as Ken Chauhan, who can talk you through the various services, in person or by telephone.

Have you been a carer to a parent, spouse or other family member? How did you balance your own health and wellbeing with your care responsibilities?


IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services advice.

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