AIM:To examine whether residential respite care increases the risk of harm to older people and suggest directions for future research and policy. BACKGROUND:Respite care is a vital part of the aged care system that supports dependent older people and their caregivers to continue residing in the community. There is little research determining whether an older person experiences harm from residential respite. METHODS:This commentary considered conceptual research and existing empirical evidence to determine whether the risk of death was greater during residential respite care for older people. RESULTS:Evidence on the mortality in contemporary respite care is extremely limited with the majority of studies published almost 20 years ago and focussing on planned respite admissions. The evidence available has limitations in design and lacks comparison groups and key variables relevant to outcome and risk stratification. Nonetheless, it provides a theoretical basis supporting that the potential for harm and mortality may be increased during a residential respite care admission. CONCLUSIONS:The question of whether residential respite care presents significant risks to older people remains unanswered. Substantial changes in practice since the last century make the existing empirical evidence redundant. However, there is much to learn by reflecting on omissions of important details from these studies. IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE:A full and objective understanding of the harm associated with residential respite care for older people requires reopening and re-examining this area with robust research. Informed professional nursing practice and policy requires an empirical evidence basis to residential respite care.