Adult Day Programs: A Useful Resource for the Caregiving Journey

An elderly main painting

If you have a family member in the relatively early stages of dementia or Alzheimer's disease, you know that handling the day-to-day running of a household plus caregiving can feel like a lot. On the other hand, the person with dementia may also feel isolated, being at home much of the time.

During the early days of my Dad's dementia, we found the adult social day program at our town Senior Center to be a great resource. For a small fee, the Senior Center bus would pick him up at the house and take him to the program and then bring him back home. This gave my Mom some free time.

This particular adult social day program is run by a licensed social worker, with assistance from several volunteers. The attendees participate in different activities and music events. One of the really wonderful projects was led by a volunteer who met one on one with several program participants to discuss their life stories. She documented the information and created small, bound books for each person and their families.

Based on my experiences, I'd offer the following observations about the pros and cons of adult day programs:

  • They offer much needed social interaction and stimulation for individuals with dementia. "Sundowning" is a common issue with this population. As dementia and Alzheimer's disrupts people's circadian rhythms, they often sleep during the day and then are awake at night. This is of course exhausting for caregivers who need sleep, but are worried about the safety of their family members. Keeping dementia sufferers engaged during the day can help to minimize these types of night-time disruptions.

  • They can make home care a viable solution for a longer period of time. One of the reasons that individuals with dementia and Alzheimer's often move to a skilled nursing facility or other living situation is because their family members become burned out. Adult day programs provide valuable respite for caregivers -- even a break of a few hours can be helpful. I believe that this is one reason that my mother was able to carry on with my Dad at home for as long as she did.

  • They are only suitable for a finite window of time during a dementia sufferer's life. Adult day programs are no longer appropriate once an individual with dementia or Alzheimer's becomes combative or their physical needs are too great. Most adult day programs aren't set up to deal with clients who have mobility problems or can't use the bathroom independently. They may be one stage on your caregiving journey.

  • They are not regulated. As noted in this fact sheet from the Administration on Aging's Elder Care Locator, adult day programs are not subject to state or federal regulations. As a result, it's important to carefully vet the facility and services provided. I felt confident in the program at our town Senior Center, given its affiliation with our town government and the fact that the program head was a Licensed Social Worker.

To find an adult day program near you, the National Adult Day Services Association has a searchable database. I would also recommend contacting your local Senior Center or Council on Aging for recommendations.

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