How Can I Convince My Father to Go to an Alzheimer's Adult Day Care?

A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I convince my father to go to an Alzheimer's adult day care center? We all need a break and he needs more socialization, but refuses to go.

Expert Answer

Beth Spencer is a social worker in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with more than 25 years of experience with families who have a member with dementia. She is coauthor of Understanding Difficult Behaviors and Moving a Relative with Memory Loss: A Family Caregiver's Guide. Previously, she directed Silver Club, early-stage and adult day programs serving individuals with Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses.

First, you need to think about it from your father’s point of view. Most likely he has no idea what the center is. He can't picture it in his mind, he can't remember it even if he has visited, and, on some level, he knows that he fails at or has trouble with new things. Saying no to anything new becomes a habit for many people with dementia -- it's a way to avoid failure and fear. Also he probably doesn' t see the need for socialization, particularly if he did not participate in social groups earlier in life.

Generally I suggest that families bring the person to visit with a very vague statement such as, "We are going to visit a senior center." Or sometimes I suggest they go do an errand and casually stop by. I try to make sure that on the first visit the person comes at a time when we are doing something that might appeal to him -- even if it's just having lunch. I invite the family member to stay with us for the first visit, and sometimes for several visits. Right now we have a husband who brings his wife, they have lunch together, and then he leaves "to run a few errands" for several hours. We give her an index card that tells her what time he will be back. We're starting with a short day of several hours and will gradually build up the time. It is imperative that the person be made to feel safe.

I always suggest we try it for 4 or 5 visits and most of the time people get used to our routines and become comfortable. We work hard to help them find a friend, whether it's another member or a volunteer. That said, adult day programs do not work for everyone. Some people fare much better with a companion in the home. Someone who has never been social, or who has severe hearing or vision deficits on top of dementia, may never really adjust.