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.
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.
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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:
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.
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:
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 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.
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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“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:
Memory care day centers provide a spectrum of services, so the benefits can extend into a number of areas:
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:
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.
“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.
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:
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.
Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.
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 Caregivers. The Gerontologist.
MetLife. (2010, October 12). The MetLife study of adult day services. NADSA.
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].
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