Types of respite care in Northern Ireland

There are different types of respite care available in and out of the home in Northern Ireland. Options range from care agencies, support workers and friends, to day centres, holidays and care homes.

Types of respite care at home

Many people prefer care provided in their own home because it means they can stay in a familiar environment and maintain their daily routines. There are a number of ways that this can be arranged. 

Care agencies provide different types of respite care in the person’s own home. These range from a personal assistant or support worker making daily visits, to help with personal care or social activities to 24-hour live-in care. 

Some local carers’ organisations offer a respite care service. This often involves a regular carer coming to spend a few hours with the person with dementia.

Your local carers’ centre can give you information on what is available locally. Carers’ centres are independent charities that deliver support services for carers in local communities. Carers NI, Carer’s Trust or your local Health and Social Care (HSC) trust can provide details of your local carers’ centre (see Other resources).

Respite care at home can involve a support worker or paid carer (often called a personal assistant) coming into the home. They may be employed by a care agency or by you or the person you care for. They may: 

  • come during the day to give you time to do something you want to do (such as going to the shops, visiting friends or attending a class) 
  • help with personal care such as washing and dressing 
  • spend time with the person with dementia doing things they enjoy, either inside or outside their home 
  • come into the person’s home to provide care and support during the night, so that you can get some sleep 
  • stay with the person or make regular visits so that you can go on holiday or have a break away from home.

If the person with dementia wants to stay at home, a friend or family member could stay with them while you take a break. Alternatively, the person could stay with family and friends, to give you a break. 

It can be helpful for the person with dementia to spend time with someone they know. People who know them may be familiar with their routine, likes and dislikes which can be reassuring for you and the person you care for. 

It is not always possible for friends or family to provide care or they might not know how best to help. If you do have someone you can ask, let them know specifically how they can help, for example spending time with the person so you can go to a class or meet friends. This helps people to know what you need and means you get help that works for you and the person with dementia. 

Types of respite care away from home

Other types of respite care include day centres, holidays or short breaks, and care homes.

Day centres can be a good way for people with dementia to take part in activities and meet other people. Some day centres specialise in supporting people with dementia, and some are run specifically for younger people with dementia. Ask your local HSC trust or use our dementia directory to find out what is available in your area. 

If the person’s needs assessment identifies that day centres are something they and you both need, then the HSC trust must arrange this for you. 

It may take the person with dementia some time to adjust to attending a day centre, and initially they may need support and encouragement to go. You might find it helps to go with the person for their first few visits.  It’s important for staff at the day centre to get to know the person and their likes, dislikes and support needs. This will mean they can help the person settle in and make sure that activities meet their needs. See Giving information to respite care providers for more advice on how you can help with this.

Another form of respite care is for you and the person with dementia to take a short break or holiday together. Some organisations provide specialist holidays for people with dementia and their carers. They include support with caring and facilities that are accessible and more suitable for people with dementia.

You might find that being away from your normal environment means you can focus on spending quality time with the person you care for. Your local carers’ centre can give you more information about this. 

When arranging a holiday or short break it’s important to make arrangements with the holiday company in advance, if you can. This means you and the person you care for know what to expect. It also gives the company time to organise support for you both. 

The person with dementia may need extra support to cope with a new environment or changes to their routine, such as leaving the bathroom light on and door open at night. Finding a holiday company that caters for people with dementia can make things easier and mean you both have a more enjoyable holiday.

For more information and advice on travelling, including details of specific providers, see Holidays and travelling

Some care homes offer opportunities for people with dementia to stay for a short period of time. There are different types of care homes which provide different levels of care, including: 

  • residential care homes, which look after a person’s general living requirements, such as accommodation and meals, as well as helping with personal care, such as washing and bathing 
  • nursing homes, which provide nursing care (as well as personal care) with a registered nurse on site 24 hours a day 
  • care homes that are registered as dementia care homes. They specialise in providing care and support for people with dementia. These can be either residential or nursing homes.

Arranging respite care in a care home depends on a room being available, so it is best to plan ahead. Rooms may not be available at short notice. Planning ahead for when respite care will be needed can be difficult, but it can be helpful to make arrangements for the future if you can.

The Shared Lives scheme

The Shared Lives scheme is another option for respite care. The idea is usually that someone with care needs can live or stay in the home of someone who is an approved Shared Lives carer. 

The exact arrangements will vary depending on the needs of the person.  For example, someone with dementia may move into the home of a Shared Lives carer to stay with them for a while. Sometimes, the Shared Lives carer could provide daytime support – either in their own home or the home of the person with dementia. 

The scheme is not available everywhere but it is expanding. Your local trust or Shared Lives Plus will be able to provide more information about whether this is currently available near you. See Other resources for more information.