If you are asking yourself “What is respite care?” you may be interested to learn that the definition of respite means a delay or cessation for a time, especially of anything distressing or trying; an interval of relief. For memory support caregivers, a respite is very much needed from time to time.
Memory care facilities provide care for those with cognitive issues, memory loss and dementia. Those services include supervision, meals, personal hygiene, social activities, companionship, and more. Some caregivers are surprised to learn that many facilities that provide memory care to full-time residents also provide short-term memory care. This can provide caregivers, who suffer from high rates of burn out and exhaustion, with the support they and their loved one need.
When should caregivers seek respite care and how long does respite care last?
Respite stays vary among facilities. Minimum respite stays with memory care facilities tend to range from two weeks to 30 or 60 or even 90 days.
Caregivers seek respite stays for various reasons. The caregiver may be going away on vacation and needs to be certain that their loved one will be safe and cared for. Or a caregiver may need some time at home to rest and refresh, with the intention of bringing the loved one home again after a chance to catch one’s breath. Still another benefit is that respite care may serve as a trial stay in a memory care facility.
Caregivers for loved ones with memory impairment very often strive to provide the care at home, keeping at arm’s length the possibility of admitting their loved one to what may seem a sterile, institutional setting. However, as the demands of dementia care intensify, the caregiver’s responsibilities become exceptionally burdensome. Often on the brink of burnout, the caregiver seeks assistance in placing their loved one in a facility for a brief respite stay to try it out.
How much does respite care cost?
It is not unusual that a respite stay will cost slightly more than the standard daily or monthly rate for any given facility. Additional fees may be charged because the professional caregivers’ responsibilities are heightened as a new resident must be introduced and assimilated into the new setting. Memory care residents sometimes adapt fairly easily, while some need a lot of reassurance and redirection in order to remain peaceful and avoid anxiety. With a respite stay of under a couple months’ time, the staff is just getting to really know the resident when it is time for the person to be discharged to return home.
Benefits of a memory care setting
Many times, however, the family caregiver realizes that their loved one has been well cared for during the respite stay and a quality of life has returned for both caregiver and memory care resident. Some marvel at how engaged their loved one has become, noticing that, while their loved one won’t recover from dementia, some improvements are being made. With the right mix of staffing and positive interactions, someone with dementia who had been at home watching hours of TV and doing a lot of napping now participates in fun activities aligned with his or her particular level of cognition and interests.
On the surface, arts and crafts or painting or singing look like fun – and indeed are – but it is important to note that a memory care facility’s activities staff have been professionally trained to implement and execute activities specifically designed for those with dementia. At home, these professional credentials are usually lacking. In many cases, caregivers are doing their best to run their household while at the same time keeping ahead of the physical needs of their loved one. It is understandable that the caregiver may be too exhausted to provide social and emotional care. In this and other ways, the loved one has needs that the caregiver may not realize or may be ill equipped to meet; after all, none of us has super-human stamina!
Caregivers have difficulty confessing that they are suffering from burnout. They think they should be able to provide care for someone who had been a parent or other loving influence in their life. But no one can provide 24-hour care for days, weeks, even months on end. That is asking too much of any human. By selecting the respite care option, the family caregiver can gain a fresh perspective on their loved one’s needs, and even delight as the loved one establishes relationships with new people. Perhaps most significantly, the relationship between caregiver and loved one can become more meaningful as the time spent together now can be focused on activities they enjoy together rather than the repetitive and exhausting tasks of personal hygiene and care. Many caregivers find that their relationship with their loved one deepens as the time they have remaining together is spent in fulfilling and memorable ways.
Respite care vs. long-term residential options
At this juncture, it could be appropriate to explore the possibility of a long-term stay. This happens especially in memory care where the family is reticent about a permanent stay and needs to test the waters. After experiencing what is usually a very positive respite-stay experience – both for the new resident and loving caregiver – one’s sense of security is strengthened, and conversations may begin between the family and the facility about continuing the stay. This can be a great way to truly gauge whether a facility is the right fit.
Not all memory care facilities are the same. Often, the only way to discover whether a respite stay is available is to contact your memory care facilities of choice; respite stays are not always publicized. Make the calls, and set up appointments to visit. For this initial visit, it is best to leave your loved one at home with a trusted adult. Once you have identified your facility of choice, the next step may be to bring your loved one to meet the staff.
No one knows your loved one better than you, the caregiver, and it is vital that information be exchanged as to the person’s safety issues, tendency to wander, proneness to falls, and medication needs, as well as personal likes, dislikes, prior career information, and any other personal information essential to maintaining their identity. This will help the memory care facility determine how well they can provide your loved one’s care and will also help assess the complexity of care required. It is best to be candid and forthright with all behavioral and medical information; the staff needs a full understanding of what that person’s behaviors and needs are so they are well prepared to make your loved one’s stay as comfortable as possible.
Memory care facilities often try to accommodate residents’ scheduling preferences. Some prefer to shower or bathe in the evening versus the morning or have breakfast first thing as opposed to later in the morning, etc. By maintaining the resident’s familiar schedule as much as possible, the resident feels more secure and the experience becomes more positive. Specific tasks like reading the newspaper, “going to work,” and folding clean laundry are familiar, routine skills and behaviors that may be simulated within the memory care facility. Similarly, holding a “baby” or stroking a cat, dog, or bird can be calming and reassuring.
Does Medicare, Medicaid or long-term care insurance cover respite memory care in Pennsylvania?
Paying for respite care, like paying for a long-term stay in memory care, is not covered in Pennsylvania by Medicare or Medicaid. It is considered to be “private pay,” meaning that you pay out of pocket, write a check, or in some instances pay by credit card, for each month’s expenses. With respite stays, you may be expected to pay in full on the day you bring your loved one. For long-term stays, facilities usually bill on a monthly basis.
Expenses may be reduced for those who served in the military during war time; ask a financial advisor or the facility’s admissions person about a Veterans’ benefit called “Aid and Attendance.” War time designations are set by the federal government and may span a longer period than you would think; it is worth exploring.
For those who invested in long-term care insurance, it may include coverage for a respite stay or a long-term stay. Typically, a page within the policy summarizes the benefits. Long-term care insurance policies differ; it is best to get your insurance agent’s guidance on this.
What is not covered is an elimination period, often the first 30 to 60 days of a long-term stay. And respite stays may or may not be covered. If the insurance language becomes too cumbersome, the facility’s admissions or billing personnel may be able to help you by being present while you call the insurance company for clarification. The facility’s specialized personnel know the questions to ask, and, while the insurance company will only speak with the policy holder or their designee, they are amenable to facility staff, while in your presence, asking questions in order to help determine benefits.
Respite care at memory care facilities is a valuable option to give at-home caregivers the chance to rest, travel, test the waters, or even recuperate from their own health issue, knowing that their loved one is safe and secure. Doing your homework ahead of time and not waiting until the need is immediate will help you get the most out of respite care – for you and your loved one.