Are you among the 34 million Americans who provide unpaid care for an adult aged 50 or older? It’s a tough task that is tempered by love and loyalty, but regardless of how devoted you are to the aging loved one in your charge, you can’t do it all by yourself.

For many families, this is where adult day care comes in. It’s a service that can keep your loved one busy and engaged, allowing you to keep working or to take a periodic break from caregiving. Elder day care can be a godsend if you can’t afford full-time in-home care and your loved one:   

  • Is frail or has dementia or other medical conditions
  • Can no longer structure their own daily activities
  • Finds it difficult to initiate activities like reading, conversation or watching television
  • Is isolated and lonely or desires peer interaction
  • Is anxious or depressed and needs social and emotional support

Adult Day Care Services and Amenities

Although the exact offerings of each adult day program vary, most offer a nutritious midday meal, which your loved one can enjoy while socializing with other seniors. As well, these centers typically provide a range of engaging events and activities that range from fashion shows and birthday celebrations to trivia games, painting or group conversations.

Some programs provide music or movies as well as outings to libraries, museums, parks, or other local attractions. As well, most deliver fitness and movement activities tailored to participants’ abilities. Some programs may incorporate exercise like dancing while others may focus more on stretching and chair exercises.

In addition, some adult day centers offer limited medical and alternative healthcare, such as:

  • Music or art therapy
  • Support groups or counseling
  • Nursing care
  • Physical, occupational and speech therapies
  • Dental care
  • Vision and hearing care
  • Foot care

On top of this, chances are good that you won’t have to worry about transportation as many centers operate or coordinate with a van or bus service that will pick up participants and return them home after the day’s activities.

The Benefits of Adult Day Programs

Still not convinced that adult day care is for you and your loved one? Here’s a quick look at some of the benefits.

Respite From Caregiving

“Oftentimes, caring for a sick family member with a disease like pancreatic cancer can lead to caregiver burnout,” says Nicole Feingold, director of patient services at PanCAN, a nonprofit serving pancreatic cancer patients and their loved ones.

Adult day services can help relieve some of the stress, anxiety or exhaustion associated with caregiving. Not only will you get a break from looking after your parent, but you will have predictable hours when you can work, attend to personal needs or run errands. Additionally, if your loved one enjoys day care they may feel happier overall, making it easier for you to provide care when they are home.

Remedy for Boredom

As for as your loved one goes, one of the chief benefits of adult day care is that it will allow them to participate in stimulating activities and stretch their wings. “I was surprised when I found my mom dancing in her care program,” says Kay Bransford, a money manager who works with older adults who need help with their home and finances. “She would refuse to do it when my dad asked, so I would have never thought to suggest it. The brain likes change, and outside programs offer options family and loved ones would not consider.”

An Antidote to Loneliness

A second reason that day care might bring a smile to your loved one’s face is the opportunity to interact with others. Seniors who seldom see anyone outside of their own family often feel loneliness, a condition  associated with depression. In addition, studies show that social isolation is linked to dementia, decreased resistance to infection, increased emergency admission and high mortality risk.

Cure for Aimlessness

Retirement can be a curse for elderly adults who no longer have a concrete reason to leave the house. As days bleed together and the weeks march on, it’s easy to fall into a rut, staying up until the wee hours and sleeping in past noon, which may lead to everything from poor nutrition to depression to increased risk of dementia. Daily or even weekly trips to adult day care can anchor a new routine, giving your loved one a reason to get up, get dressed and get moving.

Additional Access to Crucial Services

Thanks to Medicare, most elderly Americans receive some level of health care once they reach 65, but availability doesn’t always mean it’s easy for them to follow up on health care, especially if they have mobility issues or multiple medical issues. In cases like this, an adult day program that offers health care services can make it easier for seniors to take care a plethora of health issues.

Adult Day Care for Seniors with Dementia

An adult day care program, especially one tailored to people with dementia, can make a world of difference to someone who is cognitively impaired. These tailored services are typically available to people with dementia who:

  • Live in their own homes or with a caregiver
  • Don’t require constant one-on-one assistance
  • Have some mobility (most programs allow a self-propelled wheelchair)
  • Are continent (sometimes just bowel, sometimes bowel and bladder)
  • Are not physically or verbally abusive
  • Do not wander excessively

Adult day care is especially useful when people are in the early stage of Alzheimer’s and still have good social skills.  (Some evidence shows that early stimulation of the type provided by adult day centers can slow cognitive decline.) Day care can also help if your loved has moderate Alzheimer’s disease, when the strain of caregiving becomes greater and burnout is a strong risk.

If you are hesitant about enrolling your loved on in a dementia day programs, consider registering them for a few sessions to see how it goes. Start small, with just a few hours per day or week, rather than diving into full-time day care. If the transition proves difficult, talk to your loved one about their concerns. You and/or the director may be able to overcome specific objections. If the problems don’t resolve after several weeks, look for a different program or check out an in-home care or companion service.

Note: Although staff in dementia day care programs may have special education and/or training in working with people with, keep in mind that there’s no special licensing required for dementia day care.

Adult Day Care Costs and Ways to Pay

One of the best features of adult day care is its low price tag–the national median cost is $1,560 per month–compared to other care alternatives. (Note that adult day care fees may vary considerably depending on geographic region, the organization who operates the center and its services.) Know that many programs have a sliding fee scale for lower-income families and, in some cases, you can pay hourly for less than a full day of care.

In some communities, churches run free adult drop-in programs that don’t qualify as certified adult day care centers but can serve the same purpose (though without the same level of services)–to provide a safe environment for an adult who needs care for several hours a day, giving primary caregivers a respite. Get in touch with the church your loved one attends (or used to attend) or the one you go to, to check their offerings for older adults.

If cost is still a concern, explore whether your loved one has a long-term care insurance policy that includes home care benefits which could be spent on adult day care. In addition, check out whether your loved one qualifies for any of the below programs.  

Veterans’ Benefits

If your loved one is a veteran who qualifies for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical benefits and needs long-term care, they may be entitled to free services at VA-run adult day care centers. (Low-income vets or surviving spouses of veterans may qualify for some other monthly cash benefits, which can be used for any type of care, including adult day care.)

Medicaid and PACE

The Medicaid program in your state might pay for some adult day services if your loved one has a very low income and few assets, other than the home they live in. In some states, Medicaid partners with Medicare to sponsor the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).

This program provides comprehensive in-home and community care, including adult day care, for frail elders who would otherwise require nursing home care. It may be available only to those people with low income and few assets, usually those who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.

Tip: For help with questions about Medicaid or a PACE program’s coverage of adult day care, contact your local Area Agency on Aging. You can also get free, expert counseling at a local office of the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) or Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP).

Medicare

If your loved one is enrolled in a Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) plan rather than in a traditional Medicare Part A and Part B, it might offer limited adult day care coverage as part of its home care services. The extent of adult day care coverage depends entirely on the plan itself. To learn whether your loved one’s plan covers adult day care and, if so, under what terms, contact the plan directly.

Note that neither Medicare Part A or Medicare Part B covers adult day care services. Part B does, however, cover mental health treatment prescribed by a physician and provided at an outpatient mental health clinic. If the clinic is also an adult day care center, patients can partake in those services while receiving mental health treatment, though they may have to pay an additional copayment.

Important: In order for any type of Medicare plan to provide coverage, the care must meet two basic requirements: The care must be “medically necessary”—in other words, it must be ordered or prescribed by a licensed physician or other authorized medical provider—and  Medicare (or a Medicare Part C plan) must agree that the care is necessary and proper. As well, the care must be performed or delivered by a healthcare provider who participates in Medicare.

How Does Adult Day Care Compare to Other Care Options?

Before enrolling your loved in adult day care, it’s prudent to first look at other care options, like the following:

Adult Day Care vs. In-Home Care

With in-home care (or homecare), a personal care assistant comes to the home to help with activities of daily living, such as eating, grooming, light housekeeping, grocery shopping, meal preparation and medication reminders. (For those who require a higher level of care as deemed necessary by a doctor, home healthcare  nurses, physical therapists or trained health aides can provide skilled medical care in the home.)

As with adult day care, homecare will allow your loved one to remain at home, although costs can add up if they require a lot of care–caregivers can be hired for a few hours per week or 24/7, or anything in between. Another disadvantage: Unlike adult daycare centers, in-home care does not provide programmed group activities.

Adult Day Care vs. Assisted Living

Assisted living is a residential senior care option designed for elders who need some supervision and help with the activities of daily living such as meal preparation, housekeeping and bathing. In this arrangement, seniors usually live in a private or semi-private suite within a complex. The price usually includes three meals per day, which are eaten in a communal dining area; common spaces for socializing; organized recreational and cultural activities and transportation services.

Many communities also feature on-site amenities like gyms, swimming pools, beauty salons, pharmacies and computers as well. Like some adult day care programs, many assisted living communities offer specialized dementia care, often referred to as memory care.

For many, the chief benefit of assisted living is the social aspect. In such a setting, your loved one would live, eat and play in a community, meaning they would have ample opportunity to socialize with others. As well, assisted living communities sometimes provide social events or activities on evenings or weekends, in contrast to adult day programs, which usually run Monday to Friday in the daytime.

Assisted living also gives caretakers more of a break than adult day care, as staff can provide round-the-clock with help with the daily activities of living. On the minus side, assisted living comes with a much higher price tag than adult day care. Your loved one might also resist senior living as it will mean moving to an unfamiliar environment and, in some cases, giving up a much-loved house.

Adult Day Care vs. Skilled Nursing Care

Skilled nursing care in a nursing home is the most expensive of all options and the one that offers the most medical support. Although it is few people’s first choice, a nursing home may be the most viable option for someone in the final stage of a disease or a person has significant physical/cognitive limitations. If the idea of providing  24/7 care is overwhelming, a nursing home may be what your loved one really needs.

Comparing Adult Day Care Costs and Other Types of Senior Care

When it comes to cost, adult day care is far cheaper than other care alternatives. According to the Genworth’s 2018 Cost of Care survey, the monthly national median cost for the various options is as follows:

Type of Senior CareAverage Monthly Cost
Skilled Nursing Facility$7,441 to $8,365
Assisted Living$4,000
In-home Care$4,004 to $4,195
Adult Day Care$1,560

Finding the Right Adult Day Care Program

Although the 4,600 adult day programs in the U.S. may be part of stand-alone adult centers specifically set up to provide day care to seniors, 70 percent are affiliated with or operate within senior centers, churches, medical centers or residential care facilities. Programs run from several hours to a full day. Participants may attend daily, a few times a week, weekly, or just for special activities. Weekend and evening care are less common, although this is changing as demand for adult day care rises.

You can start your search for adult day services by entering your city or zip code in Caring.com’s Senior Living Directory — don’t forget to look at  ratings and reviews! To find the best fit for your loved one, contact and tour the providers in your area that interest you, taking along a copy of National Adult Day Services Association NADSA’s site checklist.