Respite Care for Cancer Caregivers

Respite care can make a difference in helping you take care of your loved one who has cancer. If you are a caregiver, you may be experiencing stress or feel overwhelmed at times. You may also have little time for yourself — missing out on important appointments and neglecting your social life.

Successful caregiving has to be a balance between providing care and also caring for yourself. While it may feel like there is no time for you and your needs, it doesn't have to be that way. Respite care is an excellent and often necessary resource for cancer caregivers.

caregiver holding hand of patient
Dave and Les Jacobs / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

What Is Respite Care?

Respite care can be a way for caregivers and families of disabled, ill, or other individuals who are not completely independent to get a much-needed break. It gives caregivers some relief from their often around the clock duties to allow them to relax and have time away from caregiving. A break from caregiving can be something as small as running errands or even taking a small vacation.

In-home respite care and residential care outside of the home are two types of respite care that cancer patients and their families can use. They come in several different variations.

In-Home Respite Care

Respite care can come in many forms. A friend or family member can temporarily assume caregiver duties while the primary caregiver is away — or a trained professional can be hired for more complex situations. If you are unsure whether a friend or family member could manage the tasks of caregiving, ask your healthcare provider, who can provide insight into what type of caregiver would suit your loved one best.

Adult Day Care Respite

Some adult day care centers are prepared to care for seniors and adults with disabilities who need help while their primary caregiver is working. Daycare centers for adults provide basic care, socialization, exercise, and possibly therapy services (occupational, speech, or physical therapy) to their customers.

Residential Respite Care

Residential care in the form of nursing homes or hospices provides non-acute care for adults who are not completely able to care for themselves independently. Some of these facilities offer respite care.

Caregiver Support Groups

Caregiver support groups may be active in your community. The members who are part of support groups may decide to take turns providing respite care so other group members can get relief. You can find caregiver support groups through your loved one's cancer treatment center or by doing a simple Google search for your area.

Why Respite Care Is Needed

Caregiving can occupy much of your time, even the time you need for essential tasks, like medical appointments and self-care (such as haircuts), and errands (like car maintenance). Respite care affords you the opportunity to take care of appointments, relax, and spend time outside of the caregiving environment.

Providing care to a loved one with cancer can eventually take an emotional and physical toll. Fatigue, trouble sleeping, irritability, and changes in appetite are just a few signs of emotional and physical exhaustion, also known as "caregiver burnout". Caregiver burnout is extremely common among cancer caregivers, especially those who do not get frequent breaks away from the caregiving environment.

Caregiver burnout should not be mistaken for depression, which can also be common among caregivers. The symptoms of depression are similar to the mental and physical exhaustion caregivers experience. If you think you may be suffering from depression, don't hesitate to see your healthcare provider.

How to Find Respite Care

Depending on what level of help you need, finding respite care may be as simple as asking friends and family to help out. If your loved one needs skilled care, an in-home health aide may be your best choice for effective respite care. Residential facilities, even short term, can also be great choices for those who need a great deal of assistance.

Remember that to properly care for another person, you have to first take care of yourself! It's completely normal to feel guilty about taking time for yourself, but you shouldn't. You need time away to recharge your batteries. Regular avenues of stress relief and relaxation can help you to better focus on your caregiving duties.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. 23 Popular online and in-person caregiver support groups.

  2. Applebaum AJ. Survival of the fittest … caregiver?. Palliat Support Care. 2017;15(1):1–2. doi:10.1017/S1478951516001097

  3. Family Caregiver Alliance. Depression and caregiving.

By Lisa Fayed
Lisa Fayed is a freelance medical writer, cancer educator and patient advocate.