Family Caregivers Need a Break

By Dorothy Foltz-Gray. Medically reviewed by Niki Barr, PhD. May 7th 2016

People who care for relatives put their own health and happiness at risk. And yet, few caregivers use any adult day care services available to them.

According to a study conducted by Pennsylvania State University, of 173 caregivers for dementia patients, those who used adult day services had less anger and depression than those who did not — and they reported more positive experiences, too. But, only 21 percent of caregivers in the study made use of such services.

Why the low percentage? “Many caregivers never hear about adult day care, at least until late in their relative’s disease when day care is no longer a good option,” says study author Steven H. Zarit, PhD, head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University. “Others may have trouble letting go.”

Except for people covered by Medicaid or Medicare, little funding exists for adult day care. Most research also indicates that family caregivers who tend to Alzheimer’s patients may need the most help of all.

Why Adult Day Care Eases Stress

Unrelieved caretaking and its consequential stresses can bankrupt your health. Caregivers may have trouble dealing with their loved one’s depression, agitation, sleep problems or violent behavior, says Zarit. Finances and work can be stressful, too, especially when a caregiver feels he can’t balance all the demands.

According to a 2012 Federal University of Rio de Janeiro study involving 145 caregivers of dementia patients, 42 percent suffered from emotional exhaustion, 23 percent had an indifferent attitude toward their loved one and almost 39 percent felt a lack of personal accomplishment, which appeared linked to their sadness and fatigue.

Penn State researchers found that caregivers who used adult day care services had fewer stresses and more positive experiences, even at work. They were also less angry and depressed. However, on days caregivers used adult day care, they reported more of their own health symptoms, such as pain, fatigue or stomach problems. Researchers speculate that on day care days, caregivers had more time to focus on the way they felt — rather than solely focusing on their family member in need.

In addition to providing relief for the caregiver, day care services also help those with dementia. Adult day cares typically offer exercise, a chance to socialize and activities that stimulate the brains of patients. “Our earlier studies show that people with dementia sleep better on nights after day care and also have fewer behavior problems in the evenings after day care,” says Zarit.


Next Steps for Caregivers

Although you may be overwhelmed by your caregiving role, take the time to find adult day care. Here are steps that may help:

  • Start your search through legitimate organizations. To find an adult day care center in your area, use the locator tool provided by the National Adult Day Services Association. You can also check with local agencies on aging or local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association.
  • Assess what your loved one needs. Not all day care centers offer the same things. The range of offerings include home support services, health services, nutrition programs, personal care (e.g., haircuts and showers), behavior management (e.g., help with wandering), therapies (e.g., physical or occupational therapy) or accommodations for special needs (e.g., wheelchairs).
  • Enroll your loved one for at least two days a week. Day care program directors say it takes two or three days of adult care per week to see any benefits.

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