After Susan Law’s husband, John, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, she felt as if she was abandoning him every day that she went to work.
“He was really bored at home, wandering around all day trying to make himself busy, and just purposeless,” Law says. Plus, “it was kind of a dangerous situation. He wouldn’t know what to do if he tried to use the stove and started a fire.”
But hiring a home health aide was prohibitively expensive in Southern California, where the couple lives. And with their finances squeezed by her husband’s premature retirement, she couldn’t quit her job as a school office manager.
Then, at a support group, Law heard about an adult day care center near her home run by Easterseals, where clients — known as “members” — socialized over meals, played trivia and table games, took part in exercise classes and hobbies, and talked about current events under the supervision of nurses and other professionals who monitor health, administer medications and offer counseling. “It was something I’d never heard of,” Law admits.
Law’s husband attended the program and “he loved it from the first day,” she says. “That spark went back on when he was interacting with people and developing friendships. He felt valued again.”
Among all the options for long-term care, adult day services may be the least well known, even though they’re cheaper than home health aides or nursing homes.
When they’re open and at capacity, adult day care centers serve about 286,000 people in the United States. About 70 percent have Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s-related dementia, diabetes, depression or heart disease. The number of employees at these centers depends on the state; the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA) says the national average is one employee to six members.
Nearly a fourth of people 65 and older are socially isolated, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. This is associated with about a 50 percent increased risk of dementia, a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease, a 32 percent increased risk of stroke and higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
“It gives him the opportunity to, I guess you could say, keep living,” Countess Shaw says of her 81-year-old father, who attends an adult day care facility in Nashville. “They have exercise class. They have Bible class. They keep him motivated, compared to being at home and bored with all that time on his hands.”