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Tips for Choosing a Day Center for Your Parent

Some offer socializing, others dementia care, so here's a shopper's guide

By Lucy Lazarony

Day centers aren’t just for kids.
Adult day centers are filled to the brim with activities and can give older folks who may be ailing or feeling isolated the socialization they need in a safe, healthy environment.
Meals and snacks are provided and nurses and therapists may be available on staff. 
And for a senior who needs more attention at home, who may need help with tasks of daily living, from walking to eating to personal care, a few hours at a day center can give the caregiving spouse and other family caregivers a much-needed breather.
Matching Loved One’s Needs
The trick is finding a day center that will fit a parent’s needs, and then encouraging and cajoling him or her to go there.

Some adult day centers are strictly social, others specialize in caring for people with dementia and others may provide health care and rehab activities to those who attend the center. 
More health-specialized adult day centers may help keep a loved one living at home longer rather than in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
(MORE: Finding Affordable Home Care for Your Parents)
“Adult day help is actually an alternative for people at risk for institutional care,” said Leah Eskenazi, director of operations for the Family Caregiver Alliance. “They may have a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals to help with their care.”
Tips for Your Search

Before choosing a day center, assess your parent or loved one’s needs. Here are eight questions to ask yourself:
1. What kinds of activities do they like? 
2. What are their health and medical needs?
3. Are they sharp as a tack mentally and do you want to encourage them to socialize and make new friends?
4. Do they have issues with memory loss and decisionmaking and would they do best at a center specializing in caring for people with dementia?
5. Do they have physical issues that will need attention?
6. Do they have medications the day center staff would need to administer if they are away from home for too long?

7. Will you be able to pick them up and drop them off or would you need a center that provides transportation?
8. What is the cost? You should see if there's a sliding fee scale or financial assistance and whether your loved one's Medicaid or Veteran’s benefits could help pay the day center’s fees.
(MORE: 5 Ways to Cope When You're Overwhelmed)
Additional Considerations
Take a tour of a day center, first without your family member and later with him or her. Bring a clipboard and ask lots of questions.
“It could be a hospital. It could be a free-standing nonprofit. It could be a free-standing for-profit,” Eskanazi says. “Who owns it? Who sponsors it?  How long has it been in business?”
Other questions: What is the staff-to-client ratio? How much one-to-one attention will your loved one likely receive? How does the day center staff handle medication? What food is served? How are special dietary needs handled?

And, Eskenazi says, ask: “What kinds of activities do they do and why those activities? Are they playing bingo all day? Do they offer painting or gardening?”
Staff Skills and Experience
Knowing the credentials of the staff is also crucial, particularly when your loved one has special needs.
“If you’ve got somebody who has Alzheimer’s disease, you should make sure the staff has been trained in neurocognitive disorders,” recommends Mary Barnes, executive director of Alzheimer Community Care, which runs nine dementia-specific adult day centers in South Florida.

(MORE: We Are Not Caring for Our Family Caregivers)
Another tip for choosing a dementia-specific day center is finding one associated with a memory-care assisted living facility, especially if you believe a loved one will eventually need to relocate. “It can be a pathway if you know that’s where you’re eventually going to go,” Eskenazi says.  
Consult Other Families
Ask for references from other families attending the center, too. How do they like it?
“Talk to another caregiver and ask ‘How did it work for you?’ and “How did you get your family member to attend?’ ” Eskenazi recommends. 
Barnes also recommends trying out a day center for a couple of hours to see how a family member does. “Really look at how the staff approaches your loved one in front of you,” Barnes says. “That can help in making up your mind that this is the right place.”
For more information on choosing an adult day center, the 2015 Genworth Cost of Care survey provides clickable, state-by-state cost estimates and the National Adult Day Services Association offers tips and provides this checklist
Lucy Lazarony is a freelance writer and journalist living in South Florida. 

Lucy Lazarony is a freelance journalist living in South Florida who writes about personal finances, the arts and nonprofits. Her writing Is featured on Next Avenue,,, and the National Endowment for Financial Education. She previously worked as a staff writer at Read More
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