Caring for someone with dementia can be emotionally and physically demanding. Respite care is any intervention designed to give rest or relief to caregivers and it is not clear what positive and negative effects such care may have on them, or on people with dementia.
Four studies with 753 participants were included in this review. Three compared respite care to no respite care and one compared respite care to polarity therapy, a type of touch therapy. All studies included people with dementia and their caregivers. We were not able to pool the results of the studies as there were so few studies and they measured the outcomes in different ways. All the studies reported outcomes for the caregiver, but only one reported outcomes for the person with dementia.
The three studies that compared respite care to no respite care found no evidence of any benefit of respite care for people with dementia or for their caregivers for any outcome, including rates of institutionalisation and caregiver burden. The study that compared respite care to polarity therapy found that polarity therapy decreased caregiver perceived stress but that there was no difference between polarity therapy and respite care for other measures of psychological health and other caregiver outcomes.
Quality of the evidence
A host of methodological problems were identified in the available trials. One study did not report data that could be analysed, the remaining three studies were very small and had a very short duration. Further methodologically sound research is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.