Having a loved one attend an adult day care center can be an excellent and affordable way to give caregivers some respite while keeping said loved ones safe, engaged, and stimulated. Most centers have flexible schedules to meet the needs of busy caregivers, and most provide transportation within a specific “catchment” area.
In fact, some adult day care centers operate every day of the week and into the evening, while others feature a more restricted schedule. Caregiving can become too much of a burden for the family, or it may be too expensive to hire private caregivers to come to the home. This is where adult day care can fill a growing need for families and their loved ones.
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Every adult day care center is a little different. Some centers only accept participants with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, but most adult day care centers have at least some people with cognitive impairment. For example, if most of the participants have dementia, the activities will be more concrete and basic so that everyone can participate without feeling overwhelmed.
That being said, adult day care can have many folks come and go, so the demographic you may see one day could shift later on in the month or week. If you’re curious as to what an adult day care center features as activities, or you’re looking for more to include to an existing schedule, we have some ideas down below.
Practical or Everyday Adult Day Care Activities
There are some activities that you will find in almost any adult day care center. It is a good idea to inquire about the kinds of everyday routine activities that are offered so you can determine if they are a good fit for your loved one. Some adult day care centers will have a greater focus on medical support, in the event your loved one needs medical services during the day while they are there.
Ideally, the activities calendar will reflect the current demographics of the center. If your loved one does not have dementia, they may not do well in a day care where most participants have cognitive impairment. But, don’t be too discouraged if the activities don’t seem compatible, because you might be surprised to find out your family member loves them. While they may not seem as grandiose as some other retirement hobbies, these activities can provide some really valuable creative and social energy for your loved one.
1. Medical activities
Some, but not all, day care centers have an array of medical and therapy services. According to the National Adult Day Services Association, adult day services participants may have higher levels of chronic conditions and disease such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, or physical and developmental disabilities.
These are just some of the illnesses and ailments that can affect folks who wish to attend adult day care services. As a result, these centers are responding to the growing medical needs of their participants. Some of the medical services that are offered can include the following:
- Medication dispensing
- Checking vital signs like oxygen, blood pressure, and heart rate
- Hearing checks
- Vision screening
- Physical and occupational therapies
- Speech therapy
- Social work for mental health counseling and referral to other services
- Podiatry and dental checks
Health-related activities have the purpose of making sure that more fragile participants don’t have any unexpected health issues arise. The other benefit is the continuation of rehabilitation for people who may have come out of the hospital or short-term rehabilitation center.
While they do provide many medical services, adult day care is not set up to handle complex medical needs, like catheter care or IV medications.
2. Meals and snacks
Group dining and snacks are a part of any day care programming because people have to eat!
If your loved one has dietary or swallowing concerns, make sure you discuss with the staff ahead of time to make sure they can accommodate any modifications. Most day care communities can work with dietary preferences.
3. Personal care
Due to dementia and other medical problems, participants might need help with grooming, hygiene, getting to the toilet, or eating.
Not everyone will need help in these areas, but most day care staff will attend to these tasks for people who need help.
Fun or Social Adult Day Care Activities
Fun and social activities are the lifeblood of adult day care. One of the primary purposes of having various activities available is to improve cognition, combat loneliness, and keep people active and engaged.
Any games are valuable in adult day care. Many games are adaptive--meaning that they have a larger print or simplified instructions. Some typical games are:
- Card games such as Uno, Gin Rummy, or Go Fish
- Bingo, charades, checkers, and dominoes
- Puzzles can also be suitable activities, as people can work on them together without pressure or expectation to perform. There are also larger print pieces for people with sight impairment.
Guessing games are also popular, as they help improve basic memory and sensory skills.
- Items can be placed in a bag for identification to improve concentration and tactile skills.
- Participants look at pictures of well-known places or people to identify.
- Recordings of familiar sounds such as musical instruments or nature and animal sounds with teams competing to see who can guess the most sounds accurately.
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Music has been found to work particularly well with people who have dementia, but music is something most people relate to regardless of cognitive impairment. Sing-alongs or musical performances allow for a social component as well.
For others, individual headphones or earbuds are better if they are unable to participate in a group setting. Music is selected that reflects the era of the participants. Musical performances by individuals or groups are also typical.
Cooking is a great group activity where people can participate according to their ability level.
Most adult day care communities have kitchens to prepare meals for participants, but some occupational therapists also work with individuals or groups to assist with the understanding of a recipe and sequencing of steps. The smells associated with cooking can also evoke positive memories.
7. Arts and crafts
Arts and crafts are only limited by the imagination of the activities director. Some typical arts and crafts activities include ceramics, painting, collage, finger painting, jewelry making, flower arranging, and potting plants.
For participants with dementia, sorting tasks can be helpful. Sorting involves taking similar objects and placing them in containers or piles.
Exercise and movement activities are an important part of everyday activities in adult day care due to the focus on rehabilitation and physical improvement. Some of these classes will be conducted in chairs for people who might have mobility problems.
Other classes might include:
- Outdoor games like bocce ball or croquet for those healthy enough to participate.
- Tai Chi and yoga for balance and endurance
- Dancing activities for people who have the functional ability to participate safely
- Basic physical therapy exercises for people with specific conditions
- Video and Nintendo Wii games like bowling and golf
- Adaptive indoor volleyball with balloons and chairs
- Gentle stretching exercises
9. Outdoor walks
Getting outdoors for fresh air and sunshine improves mood, allows for social interaction, and provides exercise.
These walks are supervised to make sure everyone is capable of participating and that no one wanders off. Weather permitting, daily walks are integrated into the programming of adult day care.
Off-premises outings may or may not be offered at the adult day care center you have an interest in. It depends on staffing, but most centers have multi-passenger vans for this purpose.
In many cases, these are rides to look at fall colors trips to a park to feed the ducks or some other low-key locations where everyone feels comfortable and can participate.
11. Pet therapy
Pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy features certified animals that come to the adult day care center to interact with participants. Dogs and cats are commonly used animals for pet therapy.
Holding or touching animals releases beneficial hormones that help people feel better and improves symptoms of depression and anxiety. Not everyone will respond positively to pet therapy, so if your loved one fears animals, make certain the staff knows this in advance.
Holiday-themed parties around Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, and Independence Day create an atmosphere of celebration and tradition.
Family members are typically invited. The other advantage to these parties is that participants can assist with the planning and decorating and clean-up!
13. Social interaction with participants
One of the most significant benefits of adult day care is the participants’ opportunity to interact with one another. Social isolation and loneliness are significant problems for people with cognitive and physical issues. Most have stopped driving and depend upon family to help them with their daily needs. There isn’t the availability of social interaction with peers.
In adult day care, you don’t get to choose your friends, but having other people to talk to and engage in activities with is positive. These interactions help with mood, concentration, memory and can assist with nighttime problems like sundowning. Your loved one won’t necessarily get along with everyone, but the opportunity for social engagement has a normalizing effect.
Adult Day Care Activities
Caregivers describe adult day care centers as “lifesavers.” Keeping a loved one occupied during the day can be a challenge. The variety and creativity of activities in these centers continue to grow and evolve. If you’re starting to review long-term care planning with a family member, keep adult day care in there as an option.
Yes, your loved one may not consider it as something they will need nor will they automatically take to an adult day center or the activities, so be patient. Once they feel comfortable, you will have a fantastic resource to keep your family member safe and engaged.
- “About Adult Day Services.” National Adult Day Services Association. www.nadsa.org/learn-more/about-adult-day-services/