I asked my good old  (well, actually not so old) friend, ChatGPT, what the most common questions are about respite care. It cleverly spat out the ten that I list below in seconds. And so, keeping this blog short and sweet as, I know everyone is hooking up trailers, hiding Easter eggs and counting down the days to consume whatever they gave up for Lent, let’s get to it:

What exactly is respite care?

Respite care is temporary care services provided to people who require assistance due to age, illness, disability, or other challenging circumstances. An important reason for the care is also to give primary caregivers a break from their caregiving responsibilities, and to give them a chance to rest and recharge their own batteries. It also ensures that their loved one, or their patient, gets the correct care and support in their absence. Respite care can be provided in various settings, including in-home care and in-patient units.


How does respite care differ from other types of care?

The big difference is that respite care is temporary, whereas most other types of care are more permanent. Respite care is primarily to provide a period of rest for main carers, and often, it is a welcome break for the patient too.

We are passionate about respite care because it is one of the few types of care that is totally holistic. It goes beyond just the patient and considers the importance of the community around the patient, aiming to support this whole community so that all benefit.


Who provides respite care services?

In South Africa, respite care is primary provided by frail care homes and old age homes (forgive me, can I even say “old age home” these days – seems very un-PC?) and retirement villages. Of course, we offer respite care at both lodges and in partnership with Zazen. In other countries, you get “adult day care” which is not something I’ve seen here, but in North America and Europe, some religious institutes do this. There you can drop off Mamma with the rabbi on your way to make some money at the stock exchange.

The advantage of doing respite the way we do it, is that there is a mix of people and we combine different types of care. A friend of mine who sadly became paralysed on the night of her matric dance after a motor car accident, lives in the UK now. Whenever her family goes away, she has to go to a frail care centre. She knows that the care is sufficient, but being surrounded by dementia patients and old people the whole day has a huge impact on her mentally. This just reiterates to me that we can never just look after the body of a person. We also need to consider the impact on the person’s soul and the mind, and the surrounding community.


What qualifications and training do respite care providers have?

This will depend on what kind of people to whom they  offer respite care. In our Zazen set-up, there is a full team of medical support, including a doctor, nurse and social worker and a host of experienced carers. At Recovery there are exceptional carers with the appropriate qualifications and Sr Lee Saunders who does daily rounds.



What types of services are typically offered during respite care?

The team usually tries to incorporate all the services that were provided in the previous setting, so if this was OT, physio, family visits, or specific diets, all of this would continue. The advantage of having a doctor on board, is that often respite care is an opportunity to get symptoms under control, especially in terms of pain management. A good routine can be established while the person is in an in-patient-unit. This will ensure that when the person returns home, he/she is much easier to look after and this can prevent carer-burn-out, which is sadly incredibly common.


How long does respite care usually last?

At Recovery, we fit in with you. We look after a dear lady with a neurological disease whenever her daughter goes on business trips. We look after people while their family take vacations or go on tours. We’ve looked after a sweet old man so that his wife could go to a school reunion. We looked after a young man with severe cerebral palsy so that his mom could receive some much needed help with her own mental health at a clinic. Respite care is incredibly personalised and individually tailored to each patient’s specific needs.

If you are talking respite care where you need to get authorisation from medical aid, it will be limited. Many medical aids (well the good ones anyway) pay for two weeks of respite each year if the member qualifies.



Can respite care be provided in my home, or do I need to go to a facility?

It can definitely be provided at home, but then the carers will just be substituted,  and it is not always ideal to leave a patient at home alone with carers coming and going and no one to oversee the routine and needs. One thing that often drains family members is “managing” the carers and therefore, they feel that it might as well just be easier to do the caring themselves. Having people in your home at a time that is aleady very traumatic, and having to manage them on top of your own anticipatory grief, is often extremely exhausting.


So, to answer the questions, yes, you can, but I wouldn’t.



What are the benefits of utilising respite care services?

Carers get a break, the patient gets a break, symptoms often get under control and new more appropriate routines are established. Whilst patients are in IPU’s and are observed by professionals over a longer period of time, better medication programs are given, eliminating meds which no longer serve a purpose, and finding more appropriate relief to symptoms. Often while patients are with us, they pick up much-needed weight and look better as they are taken outside to the pool, the hairdresser comes round and people even have their nails done.

Another huge benefit which is seldom mentioned, is that often the loved one feels heard and understood when other people actually experience how difficult it is to look after their loved one. Caring for someone you love is draining – emotionally and physically – and fraught with guilt. The balance between resentment and compassion is harder than we even want to admit to ourselves.


How often can I access respite care?

Simply, as often as you need to when you deal with us.


Is respite care covered by insurance or Medicare?

This depends on your medical aid, your health insurance and your diagnosis, but in my opinion, pick up the phone, and check with your medical aid. It is an extremely important service from which people benefit significantly.


In a nutshell, respite care is a glorious thing. My own dad came for respite care while my mom went to visit her brother. It was so special having him with us, and my sister stayed with him in the room. This gave them extraordinary time together they would never have had otherwise. They stayed in a big suite and my sister got some much needed rest as a teacher of tiny kids, and my mom knew my dad was loved and cared for. It certainly was serendipitous, as later that year he got ill and came to stay with us for palliative care.


Respite care is not well-understood or well-utilised form of care, but we can all identify with the need, now and then, to have a moment to catch our breaths, so be held, and supported and loved. So, may this lead up to Easter be a time of great blessing in which we can enjoy a breather, and honour the One who gives us true eternal peace and rest.