Memory problems are only part of the equation when it comes to Alzheimer's disease. Boredom, depression, wandering, anxiety issues – caregivers of people with Alzheimer's are faced with many challenges in trying to keep their loved one safe and reasonably occupied. Then there is the need for the caregiver to be constantly present. Even the most dedicated caregiver can get a little stir crazy if there is no life beyond the walls of home life with a spouse or parent with Alzheimer's.
Adult day care is often a boon to people in this situation. During the routine of day to day life, it's easy to forget the need for peer socialization for both the caregiver and the care receiver. Once the caregiver finds a good adult day care center, these issues can be addressed. Both caregiver and care receiver can gain from the services of a good day care center.
I've spoken with many caregivers who say their elder, once adjusted to the new day care setting, truly enjoys going out two days a week, or even every week day. The multiple activities offered in a good center are one reason. The chance to be with other elders is another. For some people with Alzheimer's, day care – or day services, as some are called – can represent a reason to get up in the morning. It's something to do. If it's part of a routine, so much the better.
Some people are delighted to reach an age when they can retire. Yet, many, after a few weeks or months of doing whatever they want, they begin to miss having a reason to get out of bed in the morning. That feeling pushes many people into a volunteering mode. It's no different for someone with Alzheimer's disease. They, too, want to feel useful. Adult day care is often referred to as a "club," or someplace to volunteer. And good centers do offer these elders a chance to accomplish something. They promote a sense of purpose.
Interaction with All Ages
One center near my home has a childcare center attached. For the folks with Alzheimer's, a chance to interact with a child can give them this sense of purpose. Because the centers are professionally run, there is always someone present in case the elder or the child has had enough fun and it's time for a change. No matter how short the time spent, feeling useful to a child can be a boon to someone who feels depressed and useless.
Many centers also provide activities to encourage elders to reminisce. They show old movies, play music the elders will likely find familiar, and play simplified games specifically aimed at stimulation without frustration. The goal is to help the elder succeed when possible, and feel reasonably content. Specially made puzzles with large, sturdy pieces that when put together will represent old-time cars or recognizable celebrities can help make the elder's day seem more meaningful. Baking is often a favored activity, even if all the elder can do is roll cookie dough.
A Sense of Purpose
Throughout all of these activities, socialization is part of the goal. Some elders are given a plant to "take care of." Or a special pet – real, or a stuffed toy. In rural areas of my state, giving people who have farmed toy tractors to hold can bring on conversation. For a time, the elder feels himself back in control of a farm.
Socialization is one of the big draws of adult day care. By typing "socialization" and "Alzheimer's" into your Web browser, you will pull up many references to studies that show socialization can not only help ward off dementia, it may even help slow down the progression of Alzheimer's. Even if having a social life doesn't slow down the process, if the elder is enjoying some time with peers, it's worth the effort to get them to the center.
Time Off for the Caregiver
One of the big advantages adult day care can give to caregivers, of course, is time off for the caregiver to do what they want or need to do without worrying about the safety or mental health of their loved one. If the caregiver needs to go to work, but feels that Dad may decide to take a stroll and get lost, that's a worry. If this caregiver, on the way to work, drops Dad off at the day care center, she will know that Dad is being cared for while she is gone.
Even if it's not a job that is worrying the caregiver, someone has to get groceries and run other errands. Someone has to pick up medications. And, yes, most caregivers need time alone or to have coffee with a friend. The flexibility of most day care centers allows scheduling so the caregiver can do these things.
Generally, a day care will want some sort of rhythm set for the care, both for their scheduling and for the person with Alzheimer's. Routine is important for people with dementia. Once they have a routine, it's good to stick with it as closely as possible. But flexibility is important, too. One caregiver I know well told me, "Dad loves the care center, but if he's having a bad day he can be stubborn about going. If I see this, I call the center, and they are good about us not showing up."
This works for my friend for now. Her Dad's bad mood generally passes and the next scheduled day for care works out great.
Of course this may change. Alzheimer's is a moving target. But for a certain number of weeks, months or even years, an adult day care center could be the answer for a caregiver and a care receiver looking to improve social opportunities for both, to say nothing of flexible care options and safety issues.
A well-run day care is also a great place for caregivers to learn tools and behaviors that will help them with home care. Spending some time at the center and watching the professionals interact with the elders can be highly educational. Most of the time, questions are welcome.