Use of respite services by 275 aging families of adults with mental retardation was examined over a 4.5-year period. Although more than twice as many families used respite in 1993 compared to 1988, over half never used respite during this period. Most families using respite received in-home services, in moderate amounts, and with high levels of satisfaction. In an analysis of predictors of respite use, the only significant predictor in 1988 was poorer functional abilities of the adult with mental retardation. By 1993, respite use was predicted by three characteristics: poorer functional abilities, better health in the adult with mental retardation, and greater maternal caregiving burden. These findings reflect variability in aging families' needs for support and changing respite policies.

Support for this research was provided by the National Institute on Aging (Grant No. R01 AG08768) to the third and fourth authors, the Starr Center for Mental Retardation, Heller Graduate School at Brandeis University, and the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin. We gratefully acknowledge the valuable contributions of Barbara Larson, Renee Makuch, and Dorothy Robison to the research on which this article is based. We also thank the hundreds of families who gave so generously of their time.

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