Minding Our Elders

Adult day care centers offer a measure of independence to senior citizens as well as their caregivers. And as the baby boom generation continues to age, adult day care is becoming an increasingly popular option.

April 15, 2005|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

There are days when Doris Parker wants to throw up her hands in frustration and run screaming into the street.

Between a full-time job at the Social Security Administration and tending to her elderly parents who need round-the-clock care, the 57-year-old Parker recognized long ago that she needed help during the day if she was going to keep both parents living in her Baltimore home.

"My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's six years ago, and my mother has slight dementia," Parker says. "It's kind of important that I have peace of mind about where they are and how they are doing while I'm working."

Parker's problem is one that challenges an increasing number of caregivers nationwide as the population ages. About 22.4 million households, nearly one in four, provide care to an elderly relative or friend age 50 or older, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons.

Many caregivers must stop working to stay home with elderly loved ones. Others hire medical professionals to visit the home. Many end up sending their loved ones to assisted-living facilities or nursing homes. Parker's solution was one that will likely become much more common in the future: adult day care.

For five days a week, her 93-year-old father, Robert Farmer, and her 94-year-old mother, Mary, join a couple dozen other elderly people at Levindale Adult Day Services near Sinai Hospital. They go shopping, make food, play bingo, picnic and work on arts and crafts. On a recent Friday, Robert Farmer waited for a batch of cupcakes to get icing while his wife dug deep into some soil with her hands to plant purple and yellow pansies.

Adult day care has allowed Parker to continue working while keeping her parents at home. And it has provided her parents with a place to socialize, keep active and get proper assistance from medical professionals.

"I couldn't find a better place to be," Robert Farmer says. "It's wonderful."

The challenge for many caregivers is to help elderly loved ones cope with what can be a difficult transition from living an independent life to one in which they will eventually need 24-hour care. More than 3,500 adult day care centers operating across the country, including 118 in Maryland, are trying to fulfill that need.

"Adult day care centers are new for a growing number of families who are finding themselves in this situation," says Joy Loverde, author of The Complete Eldercare Planner, published in 2000. "People are living longer and their care is getting more complicated. When we as family members are forced to juggle our jobs, our families and our personal commitments, we need to begin to look for resources outside of our family unit.

"Adult day care centers make a lot of sense," Loverde says. "It avoids the guilt associated with putting a parent into a facility of some kind and it helps prevent social isolation and mental deterioration in elderly people. This is a wonderful compromise."

But even now, there is a shortage of such centers. About 8,520 more adult day care centers are needed nationwide, according to the Washington-based National Adult Day Services Association. In Maryland, that would include 68 more centers needed to keep up with demand.

And those numbers will inevitably rise as baby boomers age. It's estimated that there will be 70 million people age 50 or older by 2030, more than twice the number in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's become widely recognized that elderly people need to get out of the home and interact with others because it increases their quality of life," says Linda Velgouse, director for home and community-based services in the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging in Washington. "Most adult day services work with not just the elderly family member, but the rest of the family, too. They develop a plan of care with the entire family in mind so that improves the participant's life and the caregiver's life. It allows caregivers to live their lives, too."

Janice Gold calls it a lifesaver.

At 80 years old, the Mount Washington legal secretary wanted to continue working, but the needs of her husband, Leonard, who received a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease in 1999, were becoming more complicated each year. As the disease progressed, the 83-year-old retired designer of kitchen and bath vanities had to stop driving and needed blood tests frequently, as well as injections for post-prostate cancer.

But even as the level of care that he needed grew, Gold says, she dreaded the thought of placing her once-vibrant, headstrong husband in a nursing home. So five years ago, she enrolled him at Levindale, one of Maryland's first adult day care centers, which opened in 1970.

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