Being a caregiver means balancing a lot of emotions and contradictions. When taking care of an older loved one, especially someone who has significant functional limitations, one of the most pressing issues is a contradiction of time.
The contradiction is this: there are never enough hours in your day to take care of everything, and there are so many hours in their day that need to be filled up so they don’t wither from boredom.
This difficulty was best expressed by Lupe, a 47-yr-old editor who recently had her mom move in with her and her family. She had time to take care of Carmen, who was suffering from memory loss, but not enough to make it a full-time job. And when she was taking care of her, she often felt crushed by the weight of her competing responsibilities.
“I had stuff to do, on the computer mostly, for my job. I was busy all the time but still wasn’t able to get everything done. And I was really aware that my mom was bored a lot, that she wanted to do things, but was dependent on me. I just couldn’t do my job, and I couldn’t just take care of her. Honestly, it was really stressful and I felt guilty from all sides.”
That’s when Lupe discovered that she could take advantage of the Irene Swindells Center on Adult Day Care offered by Institute on Aging in San Francisco.
The program, which was able to provide Carmen a place to go up to 5 days a week, changed both their lives. It gave Carmen a sense of destination and purpose and opened up her social life while providing high-quality care. It gave Lupe more hours in her day to take care of her own life and alleviated any unfair guilt.
By providing much-needed care services, adult day programs help caregivers handle their own affairs, relieve stress and tensions, and improve quality of life. And they do the same thing for older adults; they are a place to be happy and creative, to be engaged, and to be taken care of. They are a community, and the more people part of it, the stronger the community will be.
Why Adult Day Programs Matters
Like a lot of people, Lupe had questions about how senior day programs would work and some questions about how she would feel.
“Honestly,” she says, “my initial questions were practical. How much did it cost? How often would my mom be there? Did I have to drive her? What would she eat, and what about her meds? But mostly, I was wondering why I was doing this. Was I being fair to mom?”
That’s a great question, and it is unsurprisingly common. Becoming a caregiver for a loved one is a great practical and moral responsibility, and it can feel like shirking when you send someone to a day care program. But it isn’t, at all. It’s the opposite: it is doing right by them.
At an adult day care program, seniors can expect to have a broader social life than they might otherwise. They will meet people and, by seeing the same people 2-5 times a week, develop new friendships. They’ll sharpen their social skills, which is overwhelmingly beneficial, as socialization is known to be excellent for enhancing mental health.
And it is fun! At many adult day programs, participants learn new skills, engage in arts and crafts, and even take trips together. They can experience fresh activities surrounded by peers who share their excitement and understand their challenges. This is no minor thing; society often cruelly assumes that new experiences are the sole domain of the young and forget the unique concerns of older adults. But older adults can have and need new experiences. At Institute on Aging’s day care program, that includes sharing experiences across generations; students from kindergarten all the way through college come and participate in fun and creative programming, along with live music concerts, therapy dog visits, and free community classes. This mix of ages allows people from different ways of life to grow and share together.
So there is no need to feel guilty for signing a loved one up for a day program. You are doing them a kindness, especially if you don’t have time to engage them in mental and physical activity throughout the day.
You are also doing yourself a favor; you deserve to have your own life where you can tend to your own needs, whether practical or emotional. Caregivers deserve room to breathe and to think on their own, and they are better caregivers for it. Ultimately, it’s an act of dedication to your loved one to give yourself space. It can prevent resentment from building and recharge your batteries so that you can be more fully present for your aging loved one when you are together. As such, adult day programs are beneficial for everyone involved.
Logistics and Requirements of Adult Social Day Programs
Lupe was happy to have her questions about the practical side of the social day program answered pretty easily.
“It turns out that pretty much everything was taken care of. The staff was highly-trained and understood how to make sure my mom took her medicine at the right time. The program participants were all at different stages of their mental and physical lives, but the staff knew how to make sure everyone was taken care of. For people with mobility or incontinence issues, full restroom assistance is provided by trained staff who approach with compassion and dignity.
“My mom would start her day with some coffee and chatting with new friends, they’d an interdisciplinary mix of activities, including a seated exercise class, and then have a really healthy lunch. This wasn’t just some sandwiches, it was hot and nourishing. These were homemade meals, made with really good ingredients, and developed by a nutritionist who understands the dietary needs of older adults. Mom was eating better than I was, that’s for sure. It was like they were taking care of her body as well as her mind. After lunch they had another physical activity to keep the blood pumping, followed by three more activities, often including a live concert.
“Oh! One of the best parts is that I didn’t even have to drive. Paratransit picked her up and dropped her off. That made both our lives so much easier.”
(For more information on Paratransit San Francisco, please read here)
IOA’s Social Day Program is available to any older adult. A few notes on how it is run:
- Open Monday through Friday as well as the first Saturday of the month
- ADA compliant (both the center and the transportation)
- Runs from 9AM to 3PM
- Participants can come 2-5 times a week
- Available for one day/short-term respite with the proper paperwork and notice
- Prices vary depending on how many days per week older adult signs up for and average about $80. This price includes all transportation, food, outings, and additional classes.
Having a place to go is always a plus. Having a place to go where you are always treated with respect, compassion, and dignity is everything.
Bringing the Family Together
So, we talked earlier about contradictions. It turns out the one about time is resolved by a contradiction about proximity: by spending less time together, Lupe and her mom are closer.
That’s not uncommon. It isn’t because familiarity breeds contempt or that absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s because everyone in the caregiver/loved one relationship needs room to themselves. Room to grow, to learn, to express their individuality. And being able to be fully yourself makes being with others warmer and more meaningful.
Lupe, as usual, sums up the benefits of the IOA Social Day Program:
“My mom is happy. I’m happy. And I have more energy not just to take care of her, but to actually spend time with her. To spend quality time, talking to her, asking her about her day, and bonding like we used to. I know it seems silly to say that by having her out of the house I have my mom back, but I really do. And isn’t that what it’s all about?”
At Institute on Aging, our programs and services help older adults, their families, and caregivers explore aging together, through good times and bad, as an adventure and a journey. Contact us today to learn more.