helping seniors
Your options can help families & build your business
by Michelle Cone

I need a break. You need a break. We all do—but family caregivers need one more than most.

When they first approach a homecare provider, they’re often tired and burned out. They may be unaware of or overwhelmed by the care options available. Some have resisted calling an agency, determined to go it alone. Some will have neglected their own well-being.

These are common experiences for the “sandwich generation:” adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s caught between the demands of caring for aging loved ones, managing young families and working full-time jobs. It can take something as small as a scheduling conflict, an illness or a looming work trip to bring them to the breaking point.

As a homecare provider, you understand that respite care is the immediate answer—and the more immediate, the better it will be for potential clients.

Respite care can be short-term and flexible. It can be a few hours a day or several days a week. It can be provided at home, by an agency or independently; it can be offered by a facility or by a 9-to-5 adult day care center.

Respite care gives families time to recharge or take care of other needs, so that they can be better, more focused caregivers when they return. The care recipient benefits too, thanks to a change in routine and the variety of having someone else involved in their care.

But what if the family doesn’t yet see it that way? That’s where first impressions—and the initial consultation you deliver—can make all the difference.

A Break Isn’t a Luxury, It’s Essential

Oftentimes, a family caregiver’s biggest concern about respite care is that no one will provide the same level of support and care they do. That’s okay; you aren’t aiming to provide better support, love and oversight for their family member than them. Your agency’s goal is to be the best alternative to a family member.

Instead of trying to change their mind, acknowledge that they may be the best person to care for their loved one, then help them see how they’ll be even better after a break. Make it clear that rejuvenating and reenergizing will allow them to provide even better support and care.

If nothing else, they’ll appreciate the break, and their loved one will appreciate the improved care they provide on their return.

Let them know, too, that there’s nothing abnormal about needing a break. Everyone needs one, whether it’s a lunch break, a walk or a fun night out. Emphasize that taking time to take care of oneself is essential for mental health and overall well-being.

Respite Care Can Give Seniors More Choice, Not Less

Making sure that the loved one is included in the decision-making process is important.

From the care recipient’s perspective, respite care may sound like another instance of choices being taken away from them. So often, homecare providers meet seniors who feel that their daughter is telling them what to do, their son is telling them what to do, their physician is telling them what to do, and no one is listening to what they want and how they feel. Put the senior at ease by including them in the conversation and asking what they’d like to gain.

What do they need and want? Is it to walk the dog in their neighborhood or to get help with meal prep and medication reminders? Maybe they just want companionship, or to be taken to a social gathering or the beauty shop. Maybe they want to do some baking or cooking but it’s difficult because they struggle to operate the stove or read measurements in recipes.

Some questions your care coordinator can ask include:

  • In the time we’re going to spend with you, are there certain things that you’d like to do more of?
  • What challenges do you have?
  • What things do you enjoy but find difficult without support?

Very often the family member, for time purposes and peace of mind, is doing these things for them. Your own caregiver is more able to involve the client, who might like to be involved in folding their own laundry with assistance. The caregiver also has time to say: Would you like to walk to the mailbox together?

Respite care can be a springboard into a more scheduled program—or not. However, the variety and change it brings has its own benefits. Talking options through with the care recipient helps them understand that you’re there to empower them, not to take their choices away.

To Provide Value Faster, Be Prepared

When families reach out to a homecare provider, there’s often a lot of apprehension and nerves. They want to dip their toe in, test the waters and see how it goes—not only for their immediate peace of mind but for the future, too.

A diligent family will ask a lot of questions before feeling comfortable about someone else taking over their responsibilities. Some may include:

  • How are you screening your caregivers and what training do they have?
  • What experience does your agency have in caring for the aging population or the disabled?
  • Can you provide transportation to physicians’ appointments or to run an errand?
  • How long before a caregiver can be placed, and how will you match them to their loved one?

Being prepared in advance to answer these questions—or even to match a caregiver during the consultation—brings immediate value and sets you apart.
You’re now providing the peace of mind that, in the future, would help a family feel confident about adding more care hours and a steady schedule.

Be a Care Provider, Quarterback & Advocate

The best care managers come to every consultation with a quarterback mentality. They know that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every client, and that this means thinking creatively about opportunities to support the client both inside and outside of their agency.

For instance, a family might point out that their mother has lived in her home for 35 years but has trouble navigating it with her walker. Your care manager would know that your agency has a good relationship with a senior home modification company and can provide a recommendation.

A great care manager maximizes the value of your own offering by suggesting others who can complement it. They can reach out on the client’s behalf and follow up to ensure that they’re satisfied with any recommendations or referrals they make. What was the client’s experience with the adult day care center? Did they feel comfortable? That cycle of feedback and following up is important so that you can continue to make referrals, deliver value and build long-term trust with the families you serve.

Michelle Cone is senior vice president of training and brand programs with HomeWell Care Services, franchised by HomeWell Franchising Inc., a nonmedical in-home care franchisor. A licensed home health administrator, she has more than two decades of extensive health care experience in the post-acute care space. Learn more about HomeWell at