Study shows benefits of adult day care centers for caregivers

One of the favorite games at Quality Family Care in Canonsburg is using a parachute to toss a beach ball aroud the group of seniors. From left: David Dear of Peters Township; Nancy Dent of Houston; Alice Roguiski of Venetia; Norma Filewich of Elrama; Anna Phillips of McDonald; Rosella Lytle of Strabane and Jane Schneider, a volunteer at Quality Family Care. � Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
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Day care centers for Alzheimer's disease patients can ease their caregivers' daily stress, a new study shows.

The day care programs give spouses, children and other caregivers a break, while providing Alzheimer's patients a chance to socialize and participate in stimulating activities.

As part of the study, which was printed in the professional journal “Gerontologist,” researchers measured stress levels of 173 family caregivers throughout the United States – most were spouses and children – who used day care centers for relatives suffering from dementia.

Through telephone interviews over one week, researchers found that caregivers were less angry and depressed on days their loved ones used a center than on days when they didn't attend. And when stressful situations arose, such as problems at work, caregivers were more prepared emotionally to handle them.

“People who are doing really intensive care, like with someone with Alzheimer's, need breaks, and adult day care is a cost-effective and efficient way of providing that. We were able to really see a difference in the markers of caregivers' health and emotional well-being,” said study author Steven Zarit, lead research investigator and professor of human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University.

Judy Keron cared for her husband, Rudy, who has Alzheimer's, for five years, but the physical and emotional stress of helping him with everyday basics like bathing, dressing and eating took a toll, and her own health suffered.

That's not a coincidence, said Zarit. It's a natural, biological result of the responsibilities of caring for an Alzheimer's patient.

Keron took Rudy, now a resident at the Washington County Health Center in Chartiers Township, to adult day care for about nine months, and it provided her with some time to run daily errands and do chores.

“I did get some things done, like housework or grocery shopping, and they had him do different activities to help with his cognitive ability and his motor skills and to keep him doing things on his own as long as he could,” said Keron.

Tracie Tokar, program manager for adult day care at the Washington County Health Center, said the results of the study are remarkable and reinforce the value of adult day care programs.

“It's an opportunity for the family, both the caregiver and the participant, to maintain some normalcy in their life. For the caregiver, for example, it enables them to work or take time for the family, and to keep a loved one involved in the community,” said Tokar. “It really gives caregivers a chance to recharge their batteries.”

Many caregivers don't know that adult day care is available, said Zarit, who thinks it's important to get the word out.

Adult day care services – which can range in cost from about $48 to $60 a day – also is not available in all areas, especially rural locations.

“For many, many years, I've seen most caregivers get little or no help. Many caregivers just discover services at the point where they're burned out and thinking about a nursing home for their loved one, anyway,” said Zarit. “They need regular breaks. They can't be doing this day in and day out.”