Respite care is a cornerstone service for the home management of people with dementia. It is used by carers to mitigate the stress related to the demands of caring by allowing time for them to rest and do things for themselves, thus maintaining the caring relationship at home and perhaps forestalling long-term placement in a residential aged care facility. Despite numerous anecdotal reports in support of respite care, its uptake by carers of people with dementia remains relatively low. The aim of this paper was to examine the factors that constitute the use of respite by carers of people with dementia by reviewing quantitative and qualitative research predominantly from the years 1990 to 2012. Seventy-six international studies of different types of respite care were included for this review and their methods were critically appraised. The key topics identified were in relation to information access, the barriers to carers realising need for and seeking respite, satisfaction with respite services including the outcomes for carers and people with dementia, the characteristics of an effective respite service and the role of health workers in providing appropriate respite care. Finally, limitations with considering the literature as a whole were highlighted and recommendations made for future research.