Adult day centers assist aging in place
When Eileen Roehr’s husband, Casey, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2018, she went looking for helpful resources. High on her to-do list was finding an adult day center for him.
“The two most valuable things to keep people with dementia functioning as long as possible [are] physical activity and social interaction,” said Roehr, 80, a former psychiatric nurse.
Roehr, of Reston, Virginia, found a center, Insight Memory Care Center, that served only those with Alzheimer’s and other memory impairments.
For Roehr, the center was the best option; her husband enjoyed going there five days a week where he was kept active and taken care of during the day, all while still living at home.
Adult day centers (those in the field eschew the term “adult day care” because it’s infantilizing) are becoming increasingly popular. In 2018, about 6,200 licensed or accredited adult day centers served roughly 300,000 people nationwide, according to William Zagorski, board chair of the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA).
The number of centers has grown 35% since 2002, according to AgingInPlace.com. Though many adult day centers temporarily suspended services during the COVID pandemic, most have now reopened.
Since the 1960s, adult day care services have been giving families a cost-effective way to care for older adults and people with developmental disabilities who can’t be left alone for long stretches of time. But many Americans still aren’t aware the centers exist.
“One of the most common refrains I hear is, ‘I wish I had known about this earlier,’” said Joseph Gaugler, a professor of long-term care and aging at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
Levels of assistance
Adult day centers are not senior centers, where you might go for a meal and to work out or play some cards. Generally, participants at adult day centers have some physical, mental or intellectual impairment.
The centers fall into one of roughly three categories. Adult social day centers primarily offer meals, activities and discussion groups but provide only minimal medical help, such as health screenings or medication management.
Adult medical or health day centers combine activities and a community with greater medical care, including speech, physical and occupational therapy, and help with toileting, showering or bathing. Often, there’s a nurse available; nearly 80% of centers have one on staff, and almost half have a social worker, according to NADSA.
A third category — specialized centers — are meant for adults who require additional care because they have special needs, such as dementia or developmental disabilities. Some adult medical or health day centers also accept people diagnosed with dementia.
Research has shown that good adult day centers can reduce stress for caregivers — giving them a chance for some much-needed respite or allowing them to go to work if they are employed — while simultaneously improving the quality of life for the participants, who otherwise might be more isolated at home or have to live in a nursing facility rather than at home.
“It can make such a huge difference for the participants and their families,” said Amy Goyer, who worked at adult day centers in Ohio and is now AARP’s caregiving expert.
Rick Lauber, of Alberta, Canada, saw the difference they made firsthand. He said the center was invaluable because it gave his mother a break from caring for his father, who suffered from mild Alzheimer’s. His father went a few days a week, and “all Mom did was sleep when Dad was away,” Lauber said. “Having Dad in a safe, supportive and secure environment was a great comfort to us all.”
Adult day centers cost about $80 a day or about $1,690 a month, according to insurer Genworth. That compares to a monthly median of $5,148 for an in-home health aide and $7,908 for a semiprivate room in a nursing facility. Genworth’s calculator estimates the costs of different types of care by ZIP code.
Although the centers are generally open from early morning to early evening during the week, some offer extended hours or weekend care. When looking for a center, “you have to know your options and your needs,” said Zagorski, who also owns three facilities in and around Nashville, Tenn.
Finding a center
It doesn’t take much digging to find local day centers, which you can do at two websites: The National Adult Day Services Association at nadsa.org, and communityresourcesfinder.org. (The latter is run by AARP and the Alzheimer’s Association.) Your doctor or a physical or occupational therapist also may be a good resource.
Once you’ve identified your options, check out each one, initially by calling the center or viewing its website. Then visit the center unannounced, Zagorski suggested. “You will be able to see, hear and smell everything and not get a sterilized version,” he said.
When meeting with center staff, specify how much assistance your spouse or parent needs so they can tell you if they are an appropriate place. Does the person need a great deal of help getting up or using the toilet? Incontinence may be a deal-breaker. For example, Goyer said her centers accept those with bladder but not bowel incontinence.
The center’s staff should be able to steer you toward financial assistance if you qualify for it. Historically, Medicaid was the prime payer for adult day services, and even about 20 years ago, it paid for about 80% of participants. Now that’s down to about half, Zagorski said. Long-term care insurance and veterans benefits may cover adult centers partially or fully.
Although traditional Medicare doesn’t cover adult day centers, a Medicare Advantage plan might, so it’s worth asking, said Zagorski, who adds that “currently, fewer than 100 Advantage plans cover adult care services as a supplemental benefit.”
A center should offer ongoing education and support for the caregiver as well as the participant. Insight Memory Care Center, where Roehr took her husband, not only tailored education to each client’s needs, but also told her about available resources in the community as well as the state of research and clinical trials, and provided support groups.
Although Casey is now in a memory care unit, Roehr still brings him back to Insight a few times a week. “He needs the activities,” she said.
What to explore further
Experts suggest focusing on these areas to learn as much as you can about an adult day center:
Basics: Are there a minimum number of days per week that participants must attend, and is transportation to and from home provided? Most centers offer it. What about locked sections so that someone can’t wander off? Check out the security.
Staff: Compare the center’s staff-to-client ratio with the industry standard of six participants to one staff member, not including administrators. Ask about staff training and turnover.
Activities: Check out the calendar of activities and look for both physical and cognitive stimulation — for example, crafts, chair exercises, music and dance therapy, even aromatherapy.
© 2022 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.