What Is Adult Day Care?

Basic facts about this important source of respite care.

Normally, adult day care is used to relieve the caregiver or his or her duties for the day while ensuring that the care recipient will still receive the proper care in a safe, friendly environment. These centers usually operate during normal business hours five days a week, and some centers also offer additional services during evenings and weekends. Currently, there are more than 4,000 of these programs operating in the United States.

In general, there are three main types of adult day care centers: those that focus primarily on social interaction, those that provide medical care, and those dedicated to Alzheimer’s care. Many of these facilities are affiliated with other organizations, including home care agencies, skilled nursing facilities, medical centers, or other senior service providers. The average participant in this type of program is a 76-year-old female who lives with a spouse, adult children, or other family or friends. About 50 percent of these individuals have some form of cognitive impairment and more than half require assistance with at least two daily living activities.

Regulation of adult day care centers is at the discretion of each state, although the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA) offers some overall guidelines in its Standards and Guidelines for Adult Day Care. The staff usually consists of a social worker, an activity director, and an activity aide, who often is a certified nursing aide (CNA). Many adult day care centers also rely on volunteers to run various activities.

Benefits & Services

While adult day care can be a great resource for caregivers, many refuse to consider this option. Some worry that their loved ones will resent participating in such a program, while others feel guilty at the thought of leaving their loved ones in another person’s care. When it works correctly, however, adult day care can improve the care recipient’s overall behavior and provide the caregiver with much-needed time off.

Generally, a care recipient can benefit from adult day care because:

  • It allows him or her to stay in his or her community while the caregiver goes to work
  • It gives him or her a break from the caregiver
  • It provides needed social interaction
  • It provides greater structure to his or her daily activities

Adult day care facilities can provide a variety of services and activities, including:

  • Assistance with eating, taking medicines, toileting, and/or walking
  • Counseling
  • Educational programs or mental stimulation
  • Exercise programs
  • Health monitoring (e.g., blood pressure, food or liquid intake)
  • Podiatry care
  • Preparation of meals and snacks
  • Social activities
  • Therapy (occupational, physical, speech, etc.)
  • Transportation services

Social activities in adult day care centers can include:

  • Crafts
  • Cooking
  • Exercise
  • Field trips
  • Games
  • Gardening
  • Holiday parties
  • Music therapy
  • Pet therapy
  • Relaxation techniques

Costs (click on sidebar for detailed costs by state)

The average cost of adult day care is $64 per day (as of 2008), but individual facilities can vary significantly depending on the part of the country the center is in, as well as the services it offers. Centers may be less expensive if they are government funded or if the day care offers scholarships. On the other hand, programs that offer extensive care or additional specialized services often cost a bit more. Regardless, adult day care is often far less expensive than hiring a home health nurse or moving a loved one to a nursing facility. Medicare doesn’t cover any of the costs associated with adult day care, but if the center is a licensed medical or Alzheimer’s facility—and your care recipient meets state qualifications—some of the expenses may be covered by Medicaid. Additionally, long-term care insurance may cover some of the costs if medical personnel are involved.

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