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Memory Care Daycare: A Guide to Memory Care Day Centers

12 minute readLast updated March 29, 2022
Written by Kevin Ryan, senior living writer

Adult day centers are one of the best-kept secrets in senior long-term care. Think of an environment similar to a summer day camp just for seniors where participants can enjoy socializing, activities, and meals in a group setting outside of the home. While these centers are open to seniors of all backgrounds, nearly half of memory care day center participants have some form of dementia, according to the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA). It follows that many day centers also offer specialized memory care programming and health services.

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Finding the right memory care option for a loved one diagnosed with dementia can be a challenging task. For caregivers providing care for their loved one at home — in addition to juggling a career, family obligations, and personal well-being — it can be downright overwhelming. In fact, health risks are prevalent among dementia caregivers who spend more time caring for loved ones. Home caregivers report high amounts of burnout along with mental and physical health issues, according to a study in The Gerontologist.

Adult day centers not only offer caregivers respite from the demands of caregiving, but many provide support groups, education, and counseling services. Read on to learn more about how these community-based centers can be a healthy memory care option for families and their loved ones.

In this article:

What is an adult day center?

Adult day centers are “designed to provide social and some health services to adults who need supervised care in a safe place outside the home during the day,” according to NADSA. The services are as varied as the participants they serve, but centers can be categorized into three distinct models:

  • Health day centers include health and therapeutic services provided by medical professionals. Many of these centers also offer meals in addition to social and physical activities.
  • Social day centers provide a variety of activities, from social events to exercise classes. Participants are generally healthy and do not require ongoing medical care.
  • Specialized day centers offer specialized programming and memory care activities for individuals with chronic conditions, such as dementia, or cognitive or physical disabilities.

While the models differ, most centers provide meals, activities, and socialization for participants. These centers are generally in operation during the day and throughout the week, and some even offer evening and weekend hours. Some centers provide transportation, an added perk for caregivers who remain in the workforce.

Specialized programming for individuals with dementia

Adult day centers that cater to seniors with Alzheimer’s and other dementias should offer relevant programming. “One of the keys to having a successful day center for people with dementia is you need to have a successful activities program,” said Salli Bollin, executive director of Memory Lane Care Services, a day center in Toledo, Ohio that offers special programming for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Examples of specialized programming and services you may find at a memory care day center:

  • Music therapy
  • Pet therapy
  • Arts and crafts
  • Reminiscence activities
  • Exercise, or some kind of physical activity
  • Cooking or baking
  • Socialization events
  • Cognitive stimulation
  • Transportation
  • Health and wellness activities

Successful memory care day centers will take the time to collect information about a participant’s history, according to Bollin. She believes that while a center may strive to create intentional activities aimed at stimulating positive memories, knowing a participant’s background will also help avoid triggering negative memories from their past.

Reminiscence therapy

Reminiscence therapy is about engaging through memories, and emerging evidence shows it may improve cognitive functioning in elderly persons with dementia.

Town Square opened what it claims to be the first reminiscence therapy day center in 2018 in Chula Vista, California, and now operates several others in the United States. Town Square’s unique concept creates an immersive experience set in the 1950s through the 1960s.

Because most of the Town Square participants are in their 80s, the communities’ social rooms — called vignettes — include a replica movie theater, a diner, and a 1950s living room. Participants are greeted by a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air when they enter.

While research is underway to fully determine the effectiveness of reminiscence therapy, Town Square claims that the throwback settings reduce agitation and improve mood in participants with dementia.

What are the benefits of memory care day centers?

Memory care day centers can provide services that help enable seniors with Alzheimer’s and other dementias to remain engaged and active in their community. However, research shows that caregivers are the main benefactors.

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Benefits for caregivers

“Evidence around the benefits of adult day services is really strongest in relationship to the caregiver,” said Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, PhD, an associate professor and director of research for the Age-Friendly Innovation Center at The Ohio State College of Social Work. “We know that caregivers who care for individuals with dementia have the highest feelings of stress and burden of all caregivers.”

Memory care day centers can help to alleviate stress and caregiver burnout by providing these benefits:

  • Respite care allows caregivers to rest, continue to work, take care of household responsibilities, and remain engaged in their community.
  • A reduction of caregiving tasks reduces stress on caregivers. Most centers provide meals, and some even provide assistance with personal tasks.
  • Peace of mind comes from caregivers knowing that their loved one will receive appropriate health care and socialization.

Benefits for participants

Memory care day centers provide a spectrum of services, so the benefits can extend into a number of areas:

  • Socialization helps to reduce or prevent isolation in seniors. “When people with Alzheimer’s or dementia are connected, they’re a completely different person,” said Joan Marie Granato, owner of Future Focus Inc., an adult day service consulting company.
  • Health and wellness. Many centers have health professionals on staff who can provide both health care and daily monitoring.
  • A sense of self-worth. Participants engage in activities that are purposeful and allow them to feel empowered. “We don’t correct, we only assist,” said Tracey Wolfman, CEO of We Care Adult Care, a memory care day center.
  • Improved mood. “Participants may not remember exactly what they did in terms of activities or engagement but they seem to remember how they felt,” said Dabelko-Schoeny.
  • Improved sleep. Emerging evidence shows that an individual with dementia has higher quality sleep the evening after a memory care day center visit.
  • Safety. Participants enjoy activities and socialization in a safe and structured environment where they are supervised and have access to health services, wellness monitoring, medication administration, and nutritious meals.

Why memory care day centers are a good memory care option

In addition to the services and programming they provide, there are several reasons memory care day centers can be a good long-term care option for individuals with dementia, as well as for their caregivers. Memory care day centers may offer the following benefits:

  • Quality of life at home. Evidence suggests that adult day services may allow individuals to remain at home longer. In some cases, they may avoid needing to transition into an assisted living facility or nursing home.
  • Specially trained staff. The care team at memory care day centers often includes health professionals, activity professionals, and direct care workers. These skilled experts tend to have specific training and an understanding of how to work with individuals with dementia, according to Dabelko-Schoeny.
  • Additional services on an as-needed basis. Memory care day centers offer flexibility, so families have a variety of options to best fit the needs of their loved ones. Bollin sees adult day centers as part of the continuum of care for a loved one with dementia, and she points out that they can be used in combination with other services, such as in-home care. “I don’t think it’s an either-or; I really think it can be both.”
  • Alternative option to in-home care. Adult day centers can be a good alternative where there is a waiting list for in-home care, or when in-home care is not available in certain areas.
  • Transition support system. Day centers can be a good way to help a loved one prepare for the transition into memory care.
  • Affordable pricing. The average cost of an adult day center is $78 per day, compared to the daily cost of a skilled nursing facility, which can stretch to nearly $300 per day, according to Genworth’s 2021 Cost of Care Survey.

Many adult day centers also act as a pipeline to other community-based resources, said Dabelko-Schoeny. Nurses and social workers at centers can help families connect to services such as home health or hospice care.

When should caregivers consider a memory care day center?

“As soon as possible,” said Granato. She explained that encouraging socialization and different routines helps prevent the feeling of isolation during the onset of dementia.

Some of the factors that may help reduce or prevent someone with dementia from needing a higher level of care include how long they have been attending an adult day center and how frequently, stated Dabelko-Schoeny.

Questions to ask when choosing a memory care day center

Many adult day centers offer a trial period, but, according to Bollin, you should always take a tour to allow for a personal assessment.

The following questions may help ensure that you find the best-fit memory care day center:

  • What type of model is the day center?
  • What type of programming do they offer?
  • What are the hours of the center?
  • Does staff receive regular training for working with individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias?
  • What are the staffing ratios?
  • What hours are medical professionals available?
  • What are the meal options? Can the center accommodate dietary restrictions?
  • What does a typical day at the center look like?
  • Does the center provide transportation?

Regulations of adult day centers are not federally standardized, so licensing and certifications can vary from state to state. Dabelko-Schoeny recommends asking if the center is a member of any adult day service professional trade associations, such as NADSA or LeadingAge. This would indicate that the center is more likely to maintain best practices, according to Dabelko-Schoeny.

One more thing to consider when searching for a memory care day center — make sure you are realistic about your loved one’s needs and abilities, explained Granato. As a caregiver, getting support is important, but taking the time to find the right memory care day center will help both you and your loved one.

Are you a caregiver considering an adult day center for your loved one? A Place for Mom’s local, experienced Senior Living Advisors can help you find adult day center options to accommodate a holistic approach to memory care and match your lifestyle needs – all at no cost to you.

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Bollin, S. (2022, March 11). Personal communication [Personal interview].

Dabelko-Schoeny, H. (2022, March 9). Personal communication [Personal interview].

Granato, J.M. (2022, March 4). Personal communication [Personal interview].

Ory, M. G., Hoffman, R. R., III, Yee, J. L., Tennstedt, S., & Schulz, R. (1999, April 1). Prevalence and impact of caregiving: a detailed comparison between dementia and nondementia CaregiversThe Gerontologist.

MetLife. (2010, October 12). The MetLife study of adult day servicesNADSA.

National Adult Day Services Association. About adult day services.

Schweitzer, A. (2019, November 13). A retro adult daycare goes back to the future to treat dementia. WAMU 88.5 | American University Radio.

National Center for Health Statistics. (2020, October). Differences in characteristics of adult day services centers, by level of medical service provision.

Wolfman, T. (2022, March 17). Personal communication [Personal interview].


Meet the Author
Kevin Ryan, senior living writer

Kevin Ryan is a content specialist at A Place for Mom, focused on home care topics that include defining the differences between home care and other senior care types, home care costs, and how to pay. Kevin’s desire to support seniors and their families stems from his previous career as a teacher, plus his experience as a writer and community journalist.

Edited by

Eric Staciwo

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