When is your time not completely your own? When you become a caregiver for an aging parent, friend, spouse, or partner. When wearing a caregiver’s shoes, you are, essentially, on-call around the clock … you could be running errands for Mom/Dad during the day and kept awake at night dreading a phone call notifying you of a parental emergency. To help themselves best cope and manage this often stressful situation, caregivers must also give time to themselves – a concept known as respite. One route well worth exploring is the option of adult day programs. An adult day program, typically available through hospitals, senior’s associations, and continuing care centres, provides support and appropriate programming for dependent adults. These seniors will be engaged with any number of social activities within a secure environment while being safely monitored by professional staff.
As a former co-caregiver for my own aging parents, I learned first-hand that adult day programs can benefit both attending seniors and their family caregivers. While Mom/Dad is otherwise occupied, family caregivers can have some personal time. This can become essential for spouses/partners who will spend the most time with a loved one. In my case, my father had Alzheimer’s disease and rarely left my mother’s side. Dad was very devoted to his wife; however, Mom had both Parkinson’s disease and Leukemia and was often physically and mentally overwhelmed with the extra attention. Dad never realized (nor would have understood) the extra strain he was placing on her. My sisters and I recognized that Mom was not getting enough personal time and/or space and decided the best answer could be stepping in and registering Dad in an adult day program.
With our chosen program, we registered Dad for a couple of days per week. There was a small associated cost, but the price was reasonable and justifiable. As family, it was our responsibility to coordinate transportation to and from the day program. We booked the travel through a local senior’s driving service. For the most part, they were excellent with ferrying Dad back and forth – arriving and returning on time and delivering Dad safely. We had to remind this service about Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease. Not only would drivers be more prepared for Dad as a passenger, they would also walk with Dad where and when necessary (this included meeting him inside the senior’s home, accompanying him inside the hospital and safely transferring him to a day program worker), and delivering Dad back to a staffer at his home. Simply dropping Dad off on the street corner would have been unsafe as he could have easily wandered off alone. Mostly due to overscheduling issues, the driving service only let us down two or three times … at these times, I was called upon to drive Dad and pick him up. Having Dad away a couple of days per week greatly benefitted Mom … often, she would simply nap on the couch, but this resulted in noticeable increases with both her energy level and mood – she started smiling again!
Researching and comparing adult day programs took me some time and effort. As with any new caregiving situation, it will be to both your and your parent’s benefits if you ask probing questions before jumping in. You are, after all, delivering your parent to the day program staff for safekeeping. When researching such programs, here are a few recommended questions to ask:
• How much does your program cost?
• What is included in this program fee (e.g. social activities, lunch, healthcare?)
• How many clients do you, typically, serve per day?
• What specific experience does your staff have with __________ (your parent’s health condition)?
• Will payment be required in advance or do you bill?
• Do you offer a refund or credit if I have paid for day program time in advance and Mom/Dad is sick and cannot attend?
• Will you require notice if my parent will be late or miss a scheduled day (and how much notice will you need)?
• How many days of the week can I enrol Mom/Dad (do you have a minimum and/or maximum)?
• Do you have a minimum or maximum time frame for attending clients (can you provide only short-term respite, if needed)?
• What are your hours of operation?
• Can you/do you provide client transportation? If not, who would you recommend?
To find adult day programs in your town or city, try asking your family doctor or nearest senior’s association for referrals. By taking some time to explore available options and registering Mom/Dad in an adult day program, you can have more time to yourself as a caregiver – and that is always a good thing to have!
Please watch for my further discussion and tips on caregiver self-care in the months ahead on The Caregiver Network.