What Local Senior Centers Can Mean to Our Senior Loved Ones

Visits to their local senior center can mean a chance to get out of the house, socialize with others, and a whole lot more to aging in place seniors.

Family caregivers can get some peace of mind in knowing their senior loved ones are spending part of the day in the company of others and in safety with supervision.

Not only that, they are offered a nutritious meal each day they participate in a senior center program, a truly meaningful benefit with so many seniors dealing with hunger.

Family caregivers who are living with their senior loved one can get a bit of respite from caregiving during the time their senior is enjoying the activities in the center. Caregivers can get some housework done, make a meal, visit their own doctor, spend time with friends, run errands, or simply sit down for a rest uninterrupted.

A great caregiver benefits is the much needed opportunity to tend to your own needs.

If you are a long distance caregiver, enrolling your senior loved one in a senior day program can give you a sense of relief that they are not isolated or alone every day but hopefully enjoying a bit of fun with others (in addition to a hot meal and safety).

Unfortunately, not as many are taking advantage of these great benefits as could be.

CDC Quick Stats on Participation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a report of the statistics on seniors who participated in senior services programs in 2014.

On any given day in 2014 there were about 282,000 seniors enrolled in day programs at their senior center. Considering the number of family caregivers providing care to seniors, many who may benefit seem to be disconnected from this program.

When looking at the disease process of seniors in attendance we see this breakdown, which may or may not be what some of us expected:

  • Cardiovascular disease (heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure) 44%
  • Alzheimer disease or other dementia 30%
  • Diabetes 30%
  • Intellectual or developmental disability 25%
  • Depression 25%
  • Severe mental illness 10%

Note: some diagnoses will overlap in participants, yielding a total greater than 100%.

Considering the length of time caregivers provide care to seniors with dementia, we would have anticipated the need for assistance and respite among those caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, result in accessing a memory program at the senior center more often in this population.

What Senior Centers Offer

Senior centers are often, but not always, funded and regulated by government to help meet the needs of older adults. Some senior centers are operated by private, non-profit and for-profit organizations.

There are guidelines for operations established by the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA). They set standards, including a ratio of staff to senior as well as what types of professionals should be staffing specific programs.

There are some disease-specific programs that can provide education, activities, diet, medication manager or weight management interventions. The diseases include diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease and depression.

Most centers operate five days a week during usual business hours. You may find special programs that have off hours or other events occurring outside usual hours of service. Seniors should be continent to attend most senior centers but they do accommodate those using adaptive devices such as walkers, canes or wheelchairs.

Some centers may be targeting Alzheimer’s care or specific medical care but others are designed to facilitate interaction between seniors.

Senior centers can be found within a senior loved one’s community so travel is not usually a hindrance to attendance.

Senior centers can:

  • Assist with medications
  • Provide exercise programs
  • Serve meals and snacks
  • Perform medical services such as blood pressure monitoring
  • Schedule activities such as music, crafts, dancing, games, parties, pet therapy, trips, cooking, gardening or reminiscing
  • Host social events
  • Coordinate educational sessions that can teach new skill, review topic of interest or stimulate their brains
  • Link health resources such as therapy or podiatry
  • Offer transportation services
  • Connect with volunteer opportunities
  • Provide counseling services

Is a Senior Center for Them?

Family caregivers are often fearful or feel guilty that they are ‘sending’ their senior loved one to day care.

However, the time will come when your senior loved one would really benefit from the enrichment a senior center day program can offer – – and so will you.

Family caregivers can use the time for personal respite or getting other tasks done that are difficult when supervising or caring for your senior loved one.

Many seniors find themselves isolated and bored when they live alone or miss interacting with their peers. Most enjoy talking with others who have lived through the same history they have or find a patient ear to retell their life stories. Some seniors aren’t safe alone at home and require some supervision.

Many seniors who are at home, whether independently or with family members, can become inactive, leading to muscle loss or loss of balance. This outcome can set them up for falls or other injuries. Attendance at a senior center program will provide them with motivation and enjoyment of getting active again. They can improve their strength and balance with the activities offered at the senior center.

Hopefully they will not only find the activities fun but give them confidence in their physical well-being and keep them safer at home.

A Break for Family Caregivers

Let’s face it, sometimes you just need a break!

Seniors can attend a senior center program once a week, every day or drop in as needed. Being able to give your senior loved one a safe haven where they will enjoy their time and interact with other senior’s while allowing you a little breathing room to recharge your own batteries is invaluable!

Sometimes our senior loved ones may not want to listen to our advice, which they may hear as constant nagging about managing their health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. The staff at the senior center are professionals trained to impart expertise to manage chronic health conditions. This may carry more weight with our senior loved ones and encourage them to follow treatment plans better than us trying to push them into adherence. If they can get and keep their health conditions on track, it is definitely worth involving them in the senior center.

Some seniors could really benefit from getting a hot, nutritious meal on a regular basis. Better yet, is having someone to share their meal with instead of eating by themselves.

As you can see, there are many ways seniors and caregivers can benefit from the myriad of services available at the senior center.

Is There a Fee?

There may be a small fee for this, as Medicaid generally doesn’t cover any cost. Some programs may have a sliding scale fee based on your senior’s income. There may be Veteran’s benefits that can help cover this cost. Perhaps a long term care insurance policy can pick up some of the bill if your senior loved one has such a policy.

There may also be state sponsored programs in your area to which you can connect your senior to reduce or avoid costs associated with the care provided.

The government provides Title III funding to states to cover the needs of older people in the community. This funding is allocated to states to provide community based services including support services and nutrition. The Administration on Aging collaborates with state units to coordinate programs. Anyone over 60 is eligible for these services. Depending on your senior’s need, they may be asked to pay some cost to help defray the cost of services. Title III-C covers the nutritional component of meals served at congregate sites such as senior centers.

If you or your senior can’t afford the potential costs, discuss this with the center or your Area on Aging to see if there are grants or other sources of funds to help your senior take advantage of the program for their health and yours.

Even when a fee is involved, senior centers offer real benefits to senior loved one and family caregivers that can make them well worth the cost.