Care of an elderly disabled relative is a responsibility that many families cannot bear on a continuous long-term basis. In this paper, the development of a respite care program is described that provides caregiver relief by offering short-term hospitalization for the elderly in the community. Associated therapeutic programming is discussed, including a pre-admission functional assessment and facilitation of normal, meaningful activity and functional skills during hospitalization. Descriptive data are provided to help define the functional status of elderly persons who request periodic respites. Respite care is a new health care option that may enable an older person to remain in the community and preclude the need for institutionalization.