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Respite care

10-minute read

Key facts

  • Respite care provides a temporary break for carers and the people they care for.
  • If you're caring for someone, you can use respite care for a short break to unwind or take care of personal matters, or for overnight or extended periods to go on holiday.
  • Respite care is usually organised in advance, but you can access emergency respite care if you get sick or are suddenly not available to provide care.
  • Respite care can be offered in your home or in a community centre, respite cottage or aged care residential home.
  • You will need to have an assessment to access respite services that are partly or fully funded by the government.

What is respite care?

Respite care’ is when someone else takes care of the person you usually care for, so that you can take a break.

Respite care provides an organised, temporary break both for the carer 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 also benefits people who receive care, such as children or adults with disability, people with mental illness or dementia, or older people who are frail. It gives them an opportunity to meet new people, do new activities and have fun.

When might I need to use respite care?

If you are a carer, you might use respite care if you want to go on holiday, attend to everyday activities, or just relax.

Signs that you might need a break include:

  • feeling tired all the time
  • difficulty concentrating and getting things done
  • getting annoyed easily
  • not wanting to do things you used to enjoy
  • getting into arguments more often than before

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

Sometimes you might need emergency respite care, if you get sick or need to go to hospital and can’t provide care.

What are the types of respite care?

Respite care can come informally from family or friends, or professionally by aged care or disability services.

There are many different types of 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 your home. 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 receiving care and gives them the chance to socialise with other people in a safe environment.

Day respite may include transport 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 a respite ‘cottage-style’ house.

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 home, while you have a break for a few days or longer.

Residential respite care can be planned in advance or can be arranged in an emergency. To organise this type of respite care, the person receiving care needs to have an assessment to check that they are eligible, and to find a place that suits their needs.

Transition care

Transition care is for people who have been in hospital and are ready to go home, but who still need more help than usual.

Transition care provides short-term care that is focused on particular therapies such as:

How can I 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 for.

For most types of respite care, contact an organisation in your local area that provides the type of care that you need. Check if they have a place available for you.

If you have a veteran gold or white card, you may be able to get respite care through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

If you are aged 65 years or over

If you are aged 65 years or over, My Aged Care may be able to provide respite care. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people are eligible from age 50 years. You will need to have an assessment.

You first need to register with My Aged Care and provide some information about your needs. You can register online, or call My Aged Care on 1800 200 422.

You will then meet with an assessor. They will usually make an appointment to visit you at your home.

If the information you provide shows that you need a low level of care, you will meet with an assessor from a Regional Assessment Service (RAS). If you need a higher level of care, you will meet with a doctor, nurse, social worker or other healthcare professional from an Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT, or ACAS in Victoria) for a more in-depth assessment.

The assessment will mostly involve talking about the type of help you need. The assessor can give you information about the services that may be available in your local area. They may also ask permission to talk to the doctors involved in your medical care.

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

  • if you are eligible to receive government services
  • what type of services you are approved to receive

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

If you are aged under 65 years

If you are a person with disability under the age of 65 years, you can use your National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) package to support respite care. You will need to talk to your Local Area Coordinator about including respite in the package, and check which services are available in your area.

If you are not an NDIS participant, visit the NDIS or call 1800 800 110 to see if you are eligible.

How much does respite care cost?

Some respite services are free of charge and some you will need to pay for, partly or fully. It depends on your circumstances, the type of care, how long you will spend in respite care and which service you choose.

If you receive community-based respite care, it may be funded by the government’s Commonwealth Home Support Programme. If you can afford it, you will be asked to contribute to some of the cost.

If you receive residential respite care in an aged care home, you will have to pay a basic daily fee and sometimes a booking fee. The maximum basic daily fee for respite is set at 85% of the age pension.

Find out more about costs of respite care for people aged over 65 years.

Making the most of respite care

It is important to plan ahead to make respite 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 you care for
  • telling respite staff about the likes and dislikes of the person you care for
  • starting with small breaks and building up to longer breaks to give both of you confidence about the experience
  • talking to other people in a similar situation about what has worked for them

Can I use respite care if I am caring for someone with dementia?

If you are caring for a person with dementia, they might have difficulty adjusting to a new environment. Sometimes they may not wish to leave their family or home for a break. They may behave in a way that’s not typical for them when using respite care or afterwards.

These problems are not unusual and should not stop you taking a break.

It’s often a good idea to seek help and support, such as respite care, early in your caring role. This way, you and the person you care for will have an easier time getting used to respite care.

Resources and support

Visit Carer Gateway or call 1800 422 737 to find out about respite services in your area, or for help getting emergency respite care (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).

Use the My Aged Care search tool to find respite services in your area. You can register online, or call My Aged Care on 1800 200 422.

Services like My Aged Care or the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) may support respite care for the person you care for.

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

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

Last reviewed: August 2023

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