THE BLOG
08/16/2012 11:58 am ET Updated Oct 16, 2012

A Unique Care Option for Seniors and Their Families

School's out, the kids are home all day and they're arguing -- with Grandpa. Or maybe everyone's just grumpy and avoiding each other. Either way, many members of the Sandwich Generation -- those caring for both children and aging parents -- find that the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer too often translate into overcrowding, frayed nerves and sometimes full-blown chaos.

So how can multi-generational families enjoy summer living that is easy -- or at least easier? One solution is to let elderly family members take a turn at getting out of the house through Adult Day Stay. These half- to full-day programs offered by assisted living communities and senior community centers provide seniors a comfortable place to rest and relax, make new friends their own age and participate in recreational, cultural and social activities.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, 75 percent of persons with Alzheimer's and other dementias still live at home with caregivers, and millions of others are coping with mobility issues and physical ailments that make it impossible for them to continue to live independently. The Pew Research Center estimates that 1 in 8 Americans between the ages of 40 and 60, involving approximately 10 million American households, are caring simultaneously for both elderly family members and children under the age of 18.

While a stay-at-home care arrangement offers a lot of bonding benefits for all family members, the reality is that the primary caregiver can also pay a heavy price for their devotion, sometimes ending up with their own stress-related health issues.

Adult Day Stay programs, although relatively new, have become extremely popular because they are affordable and flexible, and they enable caregivers to achieve the balance they need to ensure that they effectively meet everyone's needs -- including their own.

Whether relied on full-time, occasionally or seasonally, these programs allow caregivers time and space so they can work, run errands, do minor home repairs, spend time with their spouse or friends or attend a support group.

For Sandwich Generation members, Adult Day Stay enables parents to spend quality time with their children when they're not in school and reconnect, whether that involves going swimming at the pool, seeing a matinee movie or enjoying a local museum. And older children, who may sometimes help in caring for a grandparent while their parents are at work, are free to have an outing or invite a friend over for the day.

Some families subsidize care with a home health care agency or independently hire a caretaker, but many are finding it advantageous to turn to Adult Day Stay, which is not only more affordable than those more traditional options but also provides unique and long-lasting benefits to the elderly family member. These benefits include:

• They get to socialize. Just as loneliness can shorten someone's life, interacting with others can extend it, according to a 13-year-long Harvard University study of 3,000 seniors that was first released in 1999. Humans, no matter their age, are social creatures, and Adult Day Stay programs, at their core, are designed with this reality in mind. Daytime guests have many opportunities to socialize with other seniors, staff members and community visitors. They get this interaction by simply sitting and enjoying a good conversation with someone who has similar interests, or they can play cards or board games, enjoy regular meals or tea time or participate in other cultural and recreational activities. Day stay guests can strike up great, long-lasting friendships with other guests and permanent residents -- and continue those relationships when they go back home via phone, email, texting or video chat.

• They have access to top care. Guests who stay at Adult Day Stay programs offered through assisted living communities are overseen by certified nurses and other personal care assistants who are highly experienced with -- and have an understanding of -- the unique health concerns of seniors, including memory, mobility and communication issues. These caretakers can work in partnership with the family to carefully monitor the health and overall well-being of each guest and ensure that they receive their prescribed medications on schedule, stay on target with all required exercises and therapies and get the assistance they need with eating, hygiene and other daily needs.

• It's fun and revitalizing. Adult Day Stay programs offer amenities and entertainment options that meet the unique needs of aging persons. At higher-end communities, day stay guests are provided with regular, nutritious meals and snacks prepared by on-site chefs, and they have access to comfortable, private rooms for resting. There are also many scheduled activities that provide mental and physical stimulation, including arts and crafts, trips to museums and local parks, game tables, concerts and opportunities to play musical instruments or engage in other hobbies. Guests that are up to it can also enjoy a gym with age-appropriate, strength-building fitness equipment and low-impact exercise classes or enjoy Mother Nature in outdoor garden spaces and walking areas.

• They get a change of scenery. Even seniors with dementia and chronic health issues want -- and need -- to get out of the house. Many family members enjoy taking their loved ones outside for a walk or to the mall, but often they don't have the time or the resources to do this frequently -- or at all. Adult Day Stay programs are a built-in way for seniors to enjoy new places, people and activities, while also maintaining a routine and structure.

• They get used to the place. For many seniors, it won't be possible for family-provided care to last forever or even for very long, whether because of declining health or changing family circumstances. Adult Day Stay can provide the senior a chance to get used to the idea of transitioning to senior community living and get to know and become comfortable with staff members and residents before a permanent stay at an assisted living community becomes necessary. And for the family caregiver, an Adult Day Stay offers a chance to "try out" the community and determine through experience whether it's right for their loved one. Utilizing Day Stay as an intermediate step can go a long way toward alleviating the guilt, anxiety and fear that can accompany a permanent move.

Of course, not all programs are the same. There are variations in the types of activities offered, the level of care, the price and services, such as pick up and drop off. Families are well-advised to do their research up front. Not only should they study their options and do tours of the community and in-person interviews with staff, but they should take time to sit down and determine what's most important to their loved one. Perhaps there are some specific activities that they'd like to be able to participate in or maybe, if they have early-stage Alzheimer's or dementia, they need access to specialized memory care.

Fortunately, Day Stay programs tend to be flexible, and program directors are more than willing to work closely with family members to establish a care and activities routine that works well for everyone.

For those in the Sandwich Generation, Adult Day Stay provides all family members the breathing room they need to meet responsibilities, pursue activities, enjoy unique experiences and still live together and care for one another fully. And when the day ends and the family gets back together, the senior member is likely to be as excited and willing as the youngest members to recall and share their own busy adventures and time spent with good friends.

Dwayne J. Clark is the founder and CEO of Aegis Living, a community of 28 living communities in Washington, California, and Nevada, and the author of My Mother, My Son: A True Story of Love, Determination, and Memories... Lost (2012, www.mymothermyson.com).

For more by Dwayne J. Clark, click here.

For more on caregiving, click here.