Aim: There is a lack of conceptual clarity around ‘respite’ as it relates to people with dementia and their carers. This study provides clarification on the use and meaning of the term and considers the concept in relation to the dominant care paradigm in dementia, i.e. person-centred care. Methods: Rodgers’ (1989) evolutionary framework was employed. A systematic search was conducted on the Pubmed/MedLine, Embase, Cinahl, PsychInfo, Scopus, Web of Science and Cochrane databases (1980–2016, English) with fixed search terms relating to ‘respite’ and ‘dementia’. Papers with primary qualitative data and literature reviews were included. This search was supplemented with snowballing techniques (back/forward searching, generic search engines). Data were analysed thematically, through an iterative process of constant comparison. Results: Respite is understood both as a service that provides a physical break for the carer and as a psychological outcome, i.e. a mental break for the carer, which can be facilitated by formal services, under certain conditions. The conceptual model outlines how client factors (dyadic relations, recognising/accepting need, carer psychosocial issues, restorative occupation, and stigma) and service factors (model/characteristics, care quality, staff expertise, meaningful occupation for people with dementia and communication and support), interact to influence a respite outcome. The key antecedent for a positive respite experience is that the carer perceives that mutual benefit is garnered from service use. Conclusion: The term respite can be interpreted as both a service and an outcome. However, it is clear that ‘respite’, as currently understood, acknowledges the relational experience of the carer only; it is, therefore, potentially damaging to the planning and delivery of person-centred dementia care. We suggest ‘restorative care’ as a potential alternative nomenclature to respite care, thereby highlighting the importance of providing mutual, personalised health and social care services that serve to enhance care relationships rather than diminish them.