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Stepping stones in care needs: adult day care fills a gap

by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief

Early on, when we see our aging parents needing help that we can't offer, we often encourage home maintenance help, and eventually in-home care for health issues. The next step is often one of finding stimulating company for an elder, freeing a well-spouse of the elder to go to work, or have time with friends, and providing another resource for backup care. Adult day care can be very good at filling this gap.

When we, as adult children, step into the role of helping our parents get help outside of what the family can contribute, we are often confused by the wide array of services. What kind of care do our folks really need? The answer to that is often that they may benefit from more than one kind of service at a time.

If your elders live in their own home, maintenance help and perhaps some in-home help for health issues are already in place. But what if Dad is the one who needs the assistance, and Mom is still fairly healthy and active? In-home care comes in to help Dad with bathing and some other tasks that are too difficult for Mom, but still, she could use some time alone in the house, and Dad, who has always been Mr. Sociability, could use some excitement.

Enter adult day care

Even with some basic in-home services and visits from family, your parents may be quite isolated, socially. Social isolation can have a bearing on mental health both for the well-spouse and the one who needs assistance. In some situations, an isolated, frustrated spouse can become abusive. The stress of always being on call can become too much, and the well spouse starts scolding the ill person. Occasionally, the abuse can become physical. If there is any danger of this happening, obviously steps need to be taken quickly. But the need for help doesn't have to be all that dire for people to look about for a better quality of life.

Adult day care centers vary greatly in the way they are set up, and in the services they offer, so it's good to check out several while you look for one that will suit the personality of the person who needs this care. Many care centers have a bus that will pick up the elder. This is a huge plus for a lot of people. Other day care centers don't offer bus service, but may be exactly what you need otherwise, so you would then work with the situation and find a way to have Dad dropped off at adult day care.

Some day care centers are in private homes where they only take four to six adults. This is perfect for individuals with a certain personality. However, other people prefer a larger environment with more options for programming. Some centers are connected to a nursing home, and when people feel a nursing home is going to be a necessity in the near future, this is a good option because the transition likely won't be as traumatic when the time comes to make the switch. Some day care centers are independent buildings, which appeal to those who feel their parent will be put off by a nearby nursing home, but may be able to grasp the concept of going to a "club" for a day.

Obviously, every community will not have all of these choices, but many middle-sized communities do. Take into consideration the personality of the person going to day care, as well as the well spouse if there is a spouse.

Adult day care: good programming is important

Advantages for those going to adult day care go beyond socializing with peers, though that is a big reason why many people like it. Since there is professional programming, people often find that they are matched with people of the same interests and abilities. If Dad loved working in his wood shop, well, many adult day care centers offer wood shops or other places where people can work on projects with safety and supervision. Art projects are often offered. This outlet for creativity is of immense value to many with early to mid-stages of dementia.

Joining others in watching old movies on DVD or listening to familiar music can be therapeutic. Baking is often taken up for the first time by some men in adult day care. They just want to join in the fun.

Some adult day care facilities offer bathing options with whirlpool baths and other luxuries. This takes the sometimes challenging chore of bathing a sick person off the well spouse. Many offer their exercise equipment for use when therapists aren't using it with patients. Most centers now offer Wii games such as bowling and other competitive or fun choices. I know of several adult day centers that have league bowling where people go to another center to compete with other teams.

If your loved one, whether a spouse or parent, seems ready for this added service, start looking around. You may not want to drop the in-home care during early morning hours, as you may need their help to get Dad dressed and ready for day care. You may even need them to drop Dad off at the day care, if you can't do it yourself.

Adult day care was slow to get noticed, but is now quickly becoming an indispensable option for many adult children and spouses of those who need help. Adult day care can fill a gap between staying at home and moving to assisted living or a nursing home.