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Adult Day Programs in Southeast Michigan: An Alternative to Long-term Care

Adult Day ServicesCaregiverIdeas and Advice When Caring For a Parent or Loved One

The adult day program her mother attends every day is keeping everyone happier in Lisa Jacques’ home.

SarahCare – Lakeside in Sterling Heights provides 85-year-old Jean, who lives with Lisa and her husband, a place to hang out, engage in crafts and music, eat lunch and make friends. Jean has dementia and the daily routine is key to her functioning.

Lisa and Ed, in the meantime, get a break for themselves. With Covid shutting down most senior centers and adult day programs earlier in the year, it was a long and stressful summer. The family would often drive to Metro Beach just to sit and look at the lake. That was nice, but it didn’t fill a lot of hours. Jean watched more TV and she smoked more. Lisa and Ed began to consider a residential facility with a memory unit for her mom.

“Having mom around made it harder, trying to figure out how to engage her in anything, which I’m not real good at,” says Lisa, a former assistant bank manager. “Without SarahCare, I probably would have put her in a memory care facility. I just felt very trapped. SarahCare gives her stimulation during that six or seven hours. She comes home, we have dinner together, I wash her hair. I have that time with her, but I have space for me each day. To me, it’s this great world.”

Since SarahCare reopened in June with strict safety protocols in place, Jean’s memory and mood have vastly improved.

“My mom says she likes it. She’s amiable. Maybe she recognizes some of the people. Twice they made ornaments – she brings it home like a kid does at school,” says Lisa.

According to the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving’s recent Caregivers in Crisis report, 83% of caregivers reported increased stress related to caregiving since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They named respite care and adult day services as their topmost needs, given the decline in help from family members, friends and neighbors who were limiting their exposure to the disease.

Adult day programs offer a place for older adults, typically 60 and above, to go during weekdays to socialize, share a meal with friends, learn new skills. Some even offer personal care services like bathing and giving medication.

For family caregivers, adult day programs can be a lifeline, says Kristin Wilson, AgeWays’s manager of social services.

“That respite can help rejuvenate them so they can better care for their loved one when they’re back home,” she says. “It’s important to know that adult day programs help both the participant and the caregiver – the participants through socialization and interaction, and the caregivers by getting time to themselves.”

Sara Follebout, RN, BSN, owner and executive director of SarahCare, calls adult day programs “the best kept secret.” They’re less expensive and even safer than having an aide come into the home, they offer stimulation and socialization, and with strict safety protocols in place, are fairly low risk. There haven’t been any infections among participants or staff since SarahCare reopened in June, she says.

“When it’s all said and done, people will have a better feel about adult day programs. People who have thought about placing haven’t placed because they won’t be able to see their loved one,” says Follebout, explaining that during Covid visits to nursing care facilities and residential senior communities are severely limited or not allowed at all.

“It’s very anxiety-provoking,” she says.

The adult day programs partially funded by AgeWays, including SarahCare, require lunch to be served. Some, but not all, of these programs tend to cater to people with memory issues.

Covid shut down many adult day programs for a good part of 2020, but most of those in AgeWays family have slowly begun to reopen with limited hours, restrictions on participant numbers and frequent disinfecting. One of them, Starpath Adult Day, run by the Council on Aging, Inc. serving St. Clair County, had to buy new couches that are easier to clean than the previous ones. The program reopened in August, but with about a quarter of the 30 or so participants it used to serve.

“When we called in August to ask if they wanted to come back, [caregivers] jumped at the chance to have a break from caring for their loved ones 24/7. They were so stretched. If we didn’t reopen, somebody would go off the deep end,” says Mary Taylor, assistant director of the Council on Aging who oversees the adult day program, which is held inside of a senior center that remains closed to the general public.

Taylor says she noticed a cognitive decline in the participants after five or so months away from the adult day program. Their dementia had worsened.

Since August, the improvement is noticeable.

“Their eyes were dull. Now the spark is back,” Taylor says.

One of the programs supported by AgeWays, Silver Club in Washtenaw County, reopened in mid-August but closed again in November as Covid surged in the community. The program meets in the Turner Center in Ann Arbor and is part of the Michigan Medicine Geriatrics Center. The physicians in the program recommended closure.

“We are looking forward to reopening when it’s safe to do so,” says Shannon Etcheverry, LMSW, director of Silver Club Memory Programs. Silver Club accommodated about 35 families before the pandemic. It also runs three mild memory loss groups.

But just because the doors are closed doesn’t mean Silver Club isn’t engaging with participants.

“Silver Club’s staff have been very creative and innovative when it comes to virtual programming,” Etcheverry says. That includes live music, trivia games, discussion, travel groups and more. Getting to know participants’ families, who often join in, has been a nice benefit, she says.

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