Adult day centers can be a much-needed source of respite care for caregivers who need a break from looking after an elderly loved one.

Over the years, a series of myths have cropped up regarding adult day centers and what goes on after a senior is dropped off at the doors. Debbie Stricoff, director of adult day services at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VSNY) CHOICE Adult Day Center, and her colleague, Frantzie Agnant, a nurse who sees senior patients at the center, acknowledge and clarify the reality hiding behind these myths.

  1. It's a glorified babysitting service for seniors. Topping the list of day center myths is that it's basically an elder-focused version of day care, or spending the day with a babysitter. This is a big one—caregivers want their elderly loved one to be going somewhere they enjoy. "Everything we do here has therapeutic purpose for seniors—even if they don't necessarily feel it," Stricoff says. The VNSNY CHOICE center offers art, music, yoga, exercise, and gardening classes, a variety of different games, and even reminiscence discussions and current events seminars.
  2. Everyone who goes to an adult day center is sick. This is generally a concern for older people who don't want to be "dragged down" by their frailer peers. According to Agnant, many people falsely believe that, "it's just a bunch of old people grouped together." But, Stricoff says that the seniors who come to the center have a broad scope of ability, from the wheel-chair bound to the almost fully-functioning.
  3. Every activity is scheduled and seniors can't deviate from the agenda. A close companion of the babysitting myth, the regimen illusion stems from people's experiences with day care and school days where young children are given a schedule they must adhere to. This model is seen as a necessity for the younger set, but is rightly thought to be infantilizing to seniors. Agnant says that she encourages seniors to participate in activities they are interested in, but that she never forces them to take part.
  4. Centers are focused on activities and care—there's no time for seniors to sit around and chat. Agnant and Stricoff both emphasize the invaluable benefits of the social aspect of an adult day center. Isolation and loneliness are twin scourges that are epidemic among the elderly population. Centers can offer a much-needed social outlet for seniors. Agnant says that many seniors thrive due to a renewed sense of belonging and she has repeatedly seen seniors develop strong bonds as they mingle with one another—sharing everything from personal stories to knowledge of medical conditions.
  5. Caregivers aren't allowed to participate. Some caregivers may think that an adult day center won't let them participate in activities with their elderly loved ones, sparking fears that the center may have something to hide or isn't delivering on its promises to take care to involve a senior. According to Stricoff, VNSNY CHOICE doesn't specifically plan for caregivers to be involved in activities, because they are more focused on providing respite care, but that participation is certainly allowed and encouraged. Agnant points out that caregiver participation may help a senior who is new to a center feel more comfortable as they settle in and get to know other people.

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