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Adult Day Care: Good for Caregivers and the People They Care For

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Taking a Break from Caregiving | Benefits to Participants | Comprehensive Care | Day Centers May Not Be for Everyone | What to Look For

Many Americans who care for an older adult feel overwhelmed and trapped by the situation. Adult day care programs can help caregivers and the people they care for.

Taking a Break from Caregiving

While providing care to a loved one is an admirable task, it also leaves many feeling overwhelmed, particularly if the person needs care around the clock. Caregiving can lead to feelings of entrapment, depression, and hopelessness.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University conducted a study to evaluate whether adult day services affected caregiver stress and psychological well-being. They found that three months after sending a loved one to adult day care twice a week, caregivers experienced fewer feelings of overload and strain and significantly less depression and anger.

Benefits to Participants

Elders who participate in adult day care make friends, and day programs provide structure and remind some attendees of going to work. Meaningful activities fill the hours and give participants something to talk about over dinner.

Family members involved in the Pennsylvania State University study reported that their relatives looked forward to going and that their behavior improved when they returned home. Specifically, they were more alert and less agitated.

Comprehensive Care

Although each center is different, many adult day care centers offer benefits such as:

  • Enrichment activities, such as music, dancing, and exercising
  • Crafts
  • Social events
  • Medical services, such as blood pressure checks and medication administration
  • Nutritious meals
  • Personal care services, such as bathing
  • Transportation to and from the center

Day Centers May Not Be for Everyone

While most older adults enjoy the day out, the programs may not suit every potential client. Programs are tailored and paced to benefit adults with physical or cognitive limitations. An active senior, who still drives and handles the checkbook, potentially functions too well for an adult day center and might find a senior center more suitable.

Someone who has always been a loner may resist an adult day center's socialization. Patients with dementia may be fearful of going to a new location. Some centers will not accept clients who hit, kick, or punch other people. Some caregivers also worry that staff will not correctly interpret a loved one's needs.

The cost of adult day programs vary and can be an obstacle for many. However, some non-profit organizations offer discounted rates and some states offer financial assistance programs.

What to Look For

The National Adult Day Services Association recommends that caregivers considering a day program assess their and their loved one's needs before visiting a center. Keep the following questions in mind when looking for a program:

  • How many years has the center been in operation?
  • What are the hours of operation?
  • Is the center certified or accredited? Does it have a license?
  • Are transportation services offered?
  • What is the cost?
  • Is financial assistance available?
  • Is specialized care provided for conditions like memory loss?
  • Do participants have access to physical or occupational therapy?
  • What type of activities are provided?
  • Are meals and snacks included?

Lastly, any center you visit should make you and your loved one feel comfortable. The caregiver should feel confident in the center's ability to care for his or her loved one. The adult attending the facility should feel comfortable and stimulated by the activities it offers.


Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)


National Adult Day Services Association


National Family Caregivers Association



Alzheimers Association of Canada



Adult day care services. HelpGuide.org website. Available at: http://www.helpguide.org/elder/adult_day_care_centers.htm. Accessed September 25, 2012.

Benefits of adult day care. AdultDayCare.org website. Available at: http://www.adultdaycare.org/blog/benefits-adult-day-care/. Updated July 25, 2011. Accessed September 25, 2012.

The benefits of day care. Family Caregiver Alliance website. Available at: http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/content_node.jsp?nodeid=886. Accessed September 25, 2012.

Site visit checklist. National Adult Day Services Association website. Available at: http://www.nadsa.org/consumers/site-visit-checklist/. Accessed September 25, 2012.

Zarit SH, Stephens MA, Townsend A, Greene R. Stress reduction for family caregivers: effects of adult day care use. J Gerontol. 1998;53:S267-S277.

Last reviewed September 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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