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Respite care

9-minute read

What is respite care?

Respite care provides an organised, temporary break both for carers and the person they care for. Letting someone else do the caring for a few hours or days has benefits for both of you.

Sometimes carers get physically and emotionally tired. It is important that they can have a break so they can be better carers.

Respite care is designed to give carers a break for a limited period of time. Someone else provides care so the carer can go on holiday, attend to everyday activities or just relax.

Respite care can last from a few hours to a few weeks. You can organise for regular respite care or you might want to have respite care now and again.

Respite care is meant to be a positive experience, both for the carer and the person being cared for.

Sometimes a carer might need emergency respite care if, for example, they get sick or need to go to hospital. If you need emergency respite care, phone your local Carer Gateway service provider on 1800 422 737, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Respite care also benefits the people who are being cared for, such as children or adults with disability, people with mental illness or dementia, or older people who are frail. It can benefit them through meeting new people, doing new activities and having fun.

What are the types of respite care?

There are different sorts of respite care — informal and formal. Respite care can be provided informally by family or friends, or professionally by aged care or disability services.

There are many different types of formal respite services. The type you choose depends on your situation and the services available in your area.

In-home respite

In-home respite means the person who provides the respite care comes to the home where you care for the person who needs it. This type of respite care can happen during the day or overnight.

Centre-based day respite

Centre-based day respite usually takes place at a day centre or club. It offers activities and outings for the person, and gives them the opportunity to socialise with other people in a safe environment.

Day respite often runs from 10am to 3pm, and may include transporting the person you care for to and from the centre.

Overnight or weekend respite

This type of respite may be provided in a variety of settings such as the home of a host family, or in a respite ‘cottage-style’ house.

Community access respite

Community access respite offers individual or group activities and outings designed to give the person a social experience. It helps them to develop, maintain or support independent living. It may be provided during the day or overnight.

Residential respite care

If the person you care for needs help every day, you may consider residential respite care. This involves a short stay in a care facility such as an aged care home or supported accommodation while you have a break for a few days or longer. Residential respite care can be planned or can happen in an emergency. Organising this type of respite care is a bit different to organising other types.

Emergency respite care

You may need emergency respite if you suddenly can’t continue in your caring role for a little while. For example, you may be unwell or need to go to hospital.

If you need emergency respite care call Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737, 24 hours 7 days a week.

Transition care

Transition care is for people who have been in hospital and are ready to be discharged, but who still need more help than usual. Transition care provides short-term care that is focused on particular therapies such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, using the services of a dietitian, and podiatry, counselling and social work.

Call your local Carer Gateway service provider on 1800 422 737 for help to find respite care services that meet your needs.

How to get respite care

You may need an assessment to receive some types of respite care. Assessments are a way of working out how much help you need and the types of services you are eligible to receive. It’s all about what’s best for you and your situation.

For most types of respite care, contact an organisation in your local area that provides the relevant services, and talk to them about the help you need. They might conduct their own assessment of your situation so they can work out what’s best for you and the person you care for.

If the person you care for is aged 65 or over, My Aged Care may be able to arrange community or residential respite care.

The Commonwealth Home Support Programme provides Government-subsidised access to a variety of respite services for older people.

To receive this care, you will need an Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT, or ACAS in Victoria) assessment.

You first need to register with My Aged Care. To register, call My Aged Care on 1800 200 422 with your Medicare card ready. You can also talk to your doctor who can refer you to an ACAT for a free assessment.

You and the person you care for will then need to meet with the ACAT person, who will usually be a doctor, nurse, social worker or other health care professional. The person from the ACAT will usually make an appointment to visit you and the person you care for at your home.

The assessment will mostly involve talking to the ACAT person about the type of help you need, and they can give you information about the services that may be available in your local area. They may also ask your permission to talk to the doctor who looks after the person being cared for.

Once the assessment is finished, you will receive a letter to let you know:

  • if you have been approved as eligible to receive government services
  • what type of services you are eligible for and approved to receive, and why

You can appeal the ACAT decision if you are not happy with your assessment outcome.

If you care for a person with disability under the age of 65, their National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) package may be able to be used to support respite care. You will need to talk to your NDIS planner about including respite in the package.

If the person you care for is not already an NDIS participant, contact the NDIS on 1800 800 110 or visit to see if they are eligible.

How much does respite care cost?

Some respite services are free and some are not. It depends on your circumstances, the type of care, the length of time, and the provider.

The Australian Government subsidises a range of respite services. If you can afford it, you are likely to be asked to contribute to some of the cost.

If you are someone who receives residential respite care in an aged care home, you do not have to pay an accommodation charge or bond, or any additional income-tested fees. But you might have to pay a basic daily fee and sometimes a booking fee. The maximum basic daily fee for a respite resident is set at 85% of the single basic Age Pension.

Further information is available on the My Aged Care website.

Making the most of respite care

It is important to plan ahead to make the respite experience a positive experience for the person you are caring for. This might mean:

  • telling respite staff clearly about your needs and the needs of the person
  • telling respite staff about the likes and dislikes of the person
  • starting with small breaks and building up to longer breaks to give both you, and the person you care for, confidence about the experience
  • talking to other people in a similar situation about what has worked for them

If you are caring for a person with dementia, sometimes they may not wish to leave the family or leave home for a break, or they may display uncharacteristic behaviour when using respite care or afterwards. These problems are not unusual and should not stop you taking a break.

It’s also important to seek help and support, such as respite care, early in your caring role. Having time to yourself to look after your own needs can help you continue in your caring role for longer.

Call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 if you need help and support in adjusting to respite care for a person with dementia.

Resources and support

Carer Gateway service providers can tell you about respite services that may be available for you and the person you care for. They can help you find respite care in your local area and answer questions about types and costs of respite. To find out more, visit Carer Gateway or call 1800 422 737, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Dementia Australia offers support, information, education and counselling for people with any type of dementia, their carers and family. To find out more, visit the Dementia Australia website or call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2021

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