As a former family carer, Beth Britton writes about the benefits of respite care and its restorative powers.

Respite care, or restorative care as I think it is perhaps more aptly named, is when a family carer takes a break from supporting their loved one and someone else takes over their caring role. Respite care means different things to different people, for example:

  • Informal respite care is when a relative or friend temporarily steps into a regular family carer’s role. This can involve either moving into the home of the person needing support, or the person moving into their home.
  • Formal respite care usually means the person needing support moving into a care home, a Shared Lives home or having a professional live-in carer to stay.
  • If respite care is only needed for a few hours, a volunteer could come and provide a befriending/ sitting service. Alternatively, the person may attend a regular daily service.

Why consider respite care?

The reason I like to refer to respite care as restorative care is because it can be helpful mentally and physically, for both the family carer and the person they care for.

Traditionally, respite care has focused solely on giving family carers a break. This however sometimes leads to guilt amongst family carers that they would seek a break from what is, for many carers, a labour of love, albeit an often extremely difficult one.

Looking at respite care from the viewpoint of both people involved can provide a valuable perspective. For example, one benefit of respite care to a family carer may be that they can to catch up on much-needed rest. Or alternatively, pursue hobbies and interests that they may have abandoned.

For the person needing support, one of the benefits of respite care may be that they enjoy forming a relationship with a new care provider, and the opportunities this might afford. For example, going out to different places or taking part in different activities.

How to make respite care work

A family carer and the person they support can make respite care work for them by considering the following:

  • Look at the different options for respite care. Your options will vary depending on how the care will be funded. As with most things social care related if you have a private income you will have the greatest choice.
  • You can request a Carer’s Assessment if you’re unsure of what may be available to you through your local authority. This will look at all aspects of your caring role, including the need for respite.
  • Once you’ve made your choice, do your research. If the person being cared for is moving into a relative’s home, can this home meet their needs? If you are looking at a care home, visit beforehand.
  • Think about the best time of year to have longer periods of respite care. Summertime may be preferable to enjoy outside activities and the feel-good factor of the summer weather.
  • Consider whether you want to remain in regular contact with each other during the time apart. As a family carer, will you worry if you aren’t with your loved one? Will the person needing support require reassurance that you’re ok and coming back soon? Or will contact potentially upset or unsettle you both?

Managing emotions

Being a family carer is an emotional rollercoaster. As I’ve alluded to above, those emotions are not switched off just because you aren’t providing your loved one’s care during a break. It is, however, vital to remember that respite care for carers helps to avoid carer breakdown.

To put it simply, if you want to care for longer, taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of the person you support.

Need more information?

For more information on the support available to carers, our article on Support for Carers has information on becoming a carer, benefits available to carers, and support for young carers.

The NHS provides a summary of options for carers’ breaks and respite care. It includes links to charities and organisations who provide support for carers, and prompts to prepare for emergency respite care should it ever be needed.

For more information on carers assessments* and the services you may be eligible for as a result of an assessment, Carers UK has a guide on applying for assessments and all aspects of this process.

* It is worth noting that due to COVID-19, face-to-face assessments are on hold. Assessments will be arranged by phone or will be paper-based for the time being.

About the author:

Beth Britton is an award-winning content creator, consultant, trainer, mentor, campaigner and speaker who is an expert in ageing, health and social care.