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What it’s Like to Work in Respite Care as a Health Care Aide

Dec 14, 2016
health care aide

An important part of the health care aide’s role is making positive, caring connections with patients

Photo credit: Myfuture.com

What is respite care?

“Respite” means a short period of rest, a break from a challenging task or responsibility. In health care, respite care gives regular caregivers (such as family members or close friends) some time off, while trained health care professionals (like health care aides) step in to look after the patient’s needs.

Why is respite care so important and valuable? Because all caregivers need time to rest and re-charge, or simply complete routine tasks like shopping, work,  doctor’s appointments, and other errands.

They find great comfort and peace of mind knowing that a trained health care provider is looking after their loved one. And as our population ages, health care aides have a special role to play in the growing field of respite care.

Let’s look at how and where respite care is delivered, and what it’s like to work in this role as a health care aide.

Respite Care at Assisted Living Facilities

Many long-term care or assisted living facilities offer respite care programs.  Care may last from just a day or two, up to several weeks, depending on the circumstances. These facilities often coordinate “adult day programmes” that offer patients an individualized plan of care, and include recreational activities (where appropriate) like cards, bowling, exercise classes, discussion groups, hairdressing appointments, etc. If they want to, respite care patients can participate in these activities and spend time with other residents during their stay at the facility.

Health care aides work very closely with “visiting” patients, helping with bathing, dressing, eating, and moving. They may also help patients select and participate in recreational activities offered at the facility—and provide support with therapeutic procedures, such as simple wound care, and  medication assistance and reminders.

Different from working with permanent residents, health care aides may not have the opportunity to form close bonds with respite care patients who visit the facility only once in a while. As these patients come and go, health care aides will be challenged to quickly establish a friendly rapport, adjust to individual wants and needs, and help newcomers integrate into the existing community (even if it’s just for a day or two).

Delivering Respite Care in the Home

Home care patients may be elderly, injured, suffering from a chronic condition, developmental disability, or recovering from surgery. Patients may  be senior citizens, young children, or any age in between—but for respite care providers, the primary goal is to help them remain in a familiar setting while the regular caregiver gets a break.

While providing respite care in a home setting, the health care aid will take on a range of tasks and responsibilities, such as:

  • planning, preparing, and serving meals
  • completing light housework and laundry
  • monitoring and reporting on the patient’s condition
  • transporting the patient to appointments or activities
  • assisting with any prescribed therapeutic exercises, or administering massage when appropriate
  • bathing, grooming, and dressing the patient
  • taking blood pressure, temperature, and pulse

The health care aide may provide respite care on a regular schedule throughout the week (perhaps to cover times when the primary care giver is a work), or just on weekends or during vacations. Assignments may be short-term, or recurring, depending on the family’s needs.  In some cases, live-in respite care may be required while the primary care giver is away.

Working through an agency, home health care aides may provide respite services to a number of different patients, and as such, are good at quickly adapting to new households, family dynamics, and patient needs.

Providing Respite Care at a Hospice

Health care aides who provide palliative respite care support patients who are terminally ill and nearing the end of their lives. Palliative care may be delivered at a specialized facility (called a hospice), or at the client’s home.

Families who are preparing to say goodbye to a loved one often suffer from significant emotional distress. The health care aide steps in to provide the primary care giver with a much needed rest, and helps to reassure the family that everything possible is being done to help the patient feel supported and comfortable.

Health care aides who provide palliative respite care usually find the work deeply rewarding—but acknowledge that they sometimes feel a deep sense of loss when a patient passes away. The nature of the work is so intimate, so personal, that even if their time with a patient is short, health care aides in this field tend to feel like part of the family. In fact, part of their role often involves helping to prepare the family for the impending loss of their loved one—to make the transition less painful.

Whether you’re positioned at an assisted living facility, working with a home care agency, or specializing in palliative/hospice care, your role as a respite health care provider is crucial to the well-being of our families and communities.

Do you feel called to become a health care aide, but aren’t sure what is involved in training or where to enroll?

Visit Herzing College online to explore Health Care Aide training in Winnipeg. You’ll see which courses the diploma program includes, the length of training, various career paths—or you can chat live with an academic advisor. We’re here to help.



Go to Health Care Aide Program Page for Details




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Herzing College, Schools  Business & Vocational, Winnipeg, MB