Adult day care `godsend' for seniors


DALLAS -- Dorothy Gates dances a pretty mean Charleston for someone who's 90.

The retired shopkeeper doesn't let her age get in the way of having fun at Friends Place, an adult day service that caters to people with memory loss.

Adult day services - also called adult day care centers - occupy a little-known but growing niche in care giving.

The programs are for frail or mentally impaired people who can't be left alone during the day but don't yet need an assisted-living center or nursing home. As more families decide to keep their elders out of nursing homes for as long as possible, they'll turn to adult day services such as Friends Place to lighten their care-giving duties.

"It's been a godsend," said Gates' daughter, Kandy Berry. "It gets her out and gives me a break." Berry drops her mother off at 10:30 a.m. and picks her up at 3:30 p.m. two or three days a week.

Gates plays cards, enjoys a hot lunch and joins in trivia games that stimulate her mind. Berry, who cares for her mother the rest of the time, uses the five hours to exercise or run errands.

About 150,000 older people in the U.S. regularly use 3,407 adult day programs, according to the National Adult Day Services Association.

Pam Kovacs, a former Alzheimer's Association executive, bought a former child care center, renovated it and reopened as the for-profit Friends Place last fall.

The center operates from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday and draws about three dozen people on any day. Some come each day; others visit one to three times a week.

`Everybody's busy'

"Everyone's busy with something," Kovacs said. "You won't find a TV here."

Mornings begin with a cup of coffee and a group discussion of that day's newspaper. (Dear Abby is a favorite.) Next come trivia games, a little exercising and a sing-along. After lunch, seniors choose from word games, billiards, dancing, shuffleboard, bowling and poker.

Especially popular are the "reminiscing rooms," where the ladies have fun trying on old hats, fake furs and jewelry. For the men, there's a workshop stocked with old-fashioned hand tools.

A nurse checks on the seniors and gives them their medications.

Molly Shomer, a geriatric care manager in Dallas, said she has seen how such programs can benefit the senior and the caregiver.

"Elders come home less agitated since they've had something constructive to do. And caregivers have more patience because they've had a much-needed break," she said.

Kay Paggi, a geriatric care manager in Richardson, Texas, estimates that seniors can sometimes delay going into an assisted-living center or nursing home for a couple of years by using adult day care.

Average $56 a day

The cost averages $56 a day. That compares with $149 for eight hours of a home health aide, $77 a day for a private room in an assisted-living center and $179 a day for a private room in a nursing home.

A study financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded that the nation only has one-third of the adult day programs that it needs. The demand comes mainly from working caregivers juggling job demands and family responsibilities.

Cheryl Tipps of Dallas quit her job as an administrative assistant to care for her 88-year-old mother-in-law, who had suffered a stroke and a loss of memory.

"We had no choice - someone had to be with her all of the time," she said. "But it was a financial hardship on my husband and me because we were suddenly without that second income."

Then Tipps discovered Scenario, a day-care program in northwest Dallas that caters to physically or mentally impaired adults of all ages.

Her mother-in-law, Lela Jordan, goes there from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. every day, and Tipps is looking for work again.

Elizabeth Perez, who owns Scenario, opens at 6:30 a.m. and closes at 6:30 p.m. each weekday to accommodate family members' work schedules.

Special Dallas Area Rapid Transit buses pick up her clients and return them home.

Perez's program accepts Medicaid, so many of the poorer seniors have no out-of-pocket expenses.

Other adult day programs accept only people who pay their way. That can put the services out of reach for those who are too strapped to cover their bills but not poor enough to qualify for assistance.

Most adult day services are run by nonprofit organizations. But the fastest-growing programs are for-profit.

Ken Durand, president of the C.C. Young retirement community, expects adult day programs to become more affordable and available as more people buy long-term care insurance and more employers help working caregivers with the costs. "More businesses will see this as a way to hold down absenteeism and hold on to valued employees," he said.

C.C. Young offers adult day care on its northeast Dallas campus as part of a full range of services that includes assisted living and nursing care.

Families who use the adult day center also occasionally take advantage of C.C. Young's weekend respite program, which cares for elders when their families leave town for a few days.

And some of the adult day program's seniors move in full time at C.C. Young when their families can no longer take care of them.

Like other families who use adult day services, Linda George of Plano, Texas, has no doubt the programs are better than nursing homes for people in the early stages of dementia.

She and her husband, Bob, 75, have been married for 41 years. He suffers from a disorder that causes him to wake up in the middle of the night and feel compelled to do yard work.

"If it weren't for Friends Place, I'd be too fatigued to care for him," she said.

For more information

For a list of adult day programs in your area, contact the National Adult Day Services Association at 800-558-5301 or

For information about financial assistance to defray the cost of respite care, contact the Alzheimer's Association at 800-272-3900 or

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