Respite: Everyone needs a break

Everyone needs a break. The peak holiday period may have come and gone, but if part or most of that time was spent supporting or hosting elderly parents or loved ones in need, then chances are it wasn’t totally relaxing.

If you are a full-time carer, it’s even more important to get some proper downtime.

As rewarding as caring for someone else can be, it can also be exhausting. Common signs of carer burnout are lack of energy; feeling physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted, even after sleep; neglecting your own needs; feeling little satisfaction from your care role; becoming increasingly impatient and irritable at the person you care for; and feeling overwhelmed, hopeless and helpless.

In aged care and respite care, having someone else step in and take on the role of caregiver to give regular carers a genuine break is a positive option.

Respite care can also be used by people living independently or with a partner or family members who recognise the need for some extra support following an illness or operation. Just a break from the normal routine, giving them a “holiday” of sorts, can be a good way to refresh.

A regular break can give someone an even better chance to look after their own wellbeing.

Where to start

Respite can either be arranged in the home of the person needing support, at a day or short-term stay centre or for a longer period in a residential aged care facility.

The government subsidises respite care through the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) and home care package system.

There are also options to pay privately for care in your own home, or to move to a place where there is professional help when and as you need it.

The option you choose may depend on how organised you are before the point of recognising you or the person you are supporting needs extra or outside help.

It’s not uncommon for individuals to suddenly recognise they need more help, or for caregivers to experience burnout, precipitating the need for emergency respite just to avoid a more dire situation.

Recognising the enormous savings it gets from the estimated 2.6 million unpaid carers, the government offers the Carer Gateway, which assists with a range of free services and support – including emergency respite.

For most government-subsidised respite care, you need to have been assessed by either the Regional Assessment Service for community-based services or the Aged Care Assessment Team for residential aged care.

Both assessments can be accessed via My Aged Care.

Financial support

Support under the CHSP system often comes in the form of an extra hour or so from a caregiver in the home, or highly subsidised rates ($15 to $50 a day) at a day centre, club, cottage or residential setting.

The same help can be accessed through the home care package, although the rates charged by some day or short stay centres are often substantially more ($100 a day at a respite day centre).

Privately funded carers in the home might charge upwards of $60 an hour and about $300 for an overnight stay.

Respite in a residential aged care facility has a set daily fee – the same as the basic daily rate in permanent care, which is equivalent to 85 per cent of the single age pension.

Based on current rates, the maximum basic daily fee is $56.87 a day to cover the cost of food, laundry, linen and care.

Facilities with extra service rooms can charge an additional fee for respite.

With ACAT approval, you are entitled to 63 days of residential respite care in a financial year, which can be extended a further 21 days.

Not every facility offers permanent respite beds, making it difficult to book ahead.

Ultimately, it is up to any residential aged care facility whether they will allow the full 63 days. Most will offer two weeks if they are unable to fill a room, unless you are thinking of staying on permanently.

In this case, paying for respite for as long as possible brings with it the financial benefit of not having to immediately start paying any means-tested care, or the daily accommodation charge, or the refundable accommodation deposit.

Different rules and charges may apply for respite-specific centres or privately operated live-in options that take bookings and charge a nightly fee of between $60 and $250 a night, depending on the operator and location. Often beds are available for a minimum of two weeks and maximum of six weeks.

As well as professional caregivers, they provide all meals, own room (not always with an ensuite), linen, laundry service and access to some basic social activities.

Whether respite is in the form of additional support coming to a person’s home or having someone to stay for a few weeks, it’s important to remember that the key purpose is to give the normal caregiver or givers a genuine break, which can mean they need to step away.

It’s not always possible to know exactly when to use respite care, but waiting until you or a carer are too stressed or overwhelmed with the caring responsibilities can lead to more problems. There is often an element of guilt asking someone to give us or a carer a break, but don’t let that stop you from seeking help – it’s in everyone’s best interest.