Adult Day Programs for Persons with Dementia

We humans are all social creatures.  We like to see some friendly faces, share a meal, and share a laugh with others.  That doesn’t change when a person has dementia.

The problem is, having dementia can be a very isolating experience.  The person is often not able to participate in activities in ways he or she once did.  And, many people with dementia begin to withdraw from activities they once enjoyed.  “I don’t feel like going to church today . . . maybe next week.”  The truth is that the person may fear embarrassing herself in a social situation.  No one wants to see the puzzled or disapproving looks on the faces of people who don’t understand why one couldn’t quite respond “normally.”  And, busy caregivers simply don’t have time to “entertain” the person.  All too often, the result is a bored and depressed person with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

For many, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Adult Day Care programs provide caring places where people with dementia can interact and enjoy activities.  These programs are different from many programs at Senior Centers; most Senior Centers are for older adults who are cognitively normal and can function independently.  Adult Day Care programs adapt their programs to meet the special needs of persons with dementia.  They have staff who understand how to make the person feel welcome and accepted, exactly as they are.  They greet each person warmly and “make a fuss” so that everyone feels special.  Who wouldn’t want that?

If you are a caregiver reading this, you may be thinking, “That’s fine for others, but my Harry will never agree to go to a program like that!”  Well, Harry is in good company.  For people with dementia, anything new is generally greeted with “no!”  Understandably, most people with dementia seek the familiar, as they already feel vulnerable and fearful.

So, that’s our “starting point” – realizing that we’ll need to introduce something new in a thoughtful way.  Here are some pointers that may help with a successful experience with an Adult Day Care program:

  • Start by making a appointment to visit a potential program(s) without the person who has dementia.  This will give the caregiver an opportunity to see the program and ask questions and begin a plan.
  • Avoid “overselling” the program to the person (“You’re just going to love this place!”)  This approach may backfire.
  • A low-key approach is generally best.  A first visit might simply involve stopping by for a few minutes.  Staff might suggest coming for lunch or for an activity.
  • Realize that the person may need to attend for a time, in order to begin to feel comfortable.  Don’t space visits too far apart.  With short-term memory loss, it could feel like starting over each time.
  • If, after a visit, the person says, “I’m never going back there again,” don’t argue, but don’t necessarily give up.  As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
  • Some people respond well to the idea that they are attending as a “volunteer.”
  • Let staff help.  They will meet you more than half way.

For more information, call our Helpline at 1-800-272-3900, during business hours.  Atlanta staff will be glad to help you find programs in your area and talk about having a successful experience.

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