The Best Of…Day Services Help Seniors Stay at Home

Published on May, 7, 2001, Pawtucket Times

            Like apples and oranges, senior centers and adult day care are quite different.  But when viewed as complementary community-based services, each can be instrumental in keeping elderly Rhode Islanders independent and at home.

           While senior centers serve the independent older population, programs and services provided by adult day care centers are specifically designed for functionally or cognitively impaired adults.

          Senior centers can serve as “brokers” between the elderly and the surrounding community, creating access to a wide variety of programs and services, states Rick Ryan, former chair of the Washington, DC-based National Institute for Senior Centers and director of senior services for South Kingstown.

        According to Ryan, some people today still believe the myth that senior centers are drop-in centers or “play pens for the frail aged where persons are spoon-fed programs and services.”  Not true, he says.

        “Indeed we have come a long way,” Ryan noted, stating that “senior centers are not developed through a cookie cutting process.”  Programs across the nation are as varied and diverse as the older population that they serve.  In fact, he says, senior centers evolved in response to their surrounding communities and reflect the interest and values of those older adults who not only participate in their programs, but also help shape them.

        For those participating, Ryan stated hat senior centers offer a menu of activities, with older participants being allowed to develop and design their own programs. Activities can range from computer labs offering Internet access, yoga, line dancing, aerobics, playing cards, art classes or even shooting pool.

         Since the early 1970s, adult day care centers have existed. According to the National Association of Adult Day Services in Washington, DC., here are more than 3,000 adult day care centers currently operating nationally.

         “There are 16 state-certified adult day care centers in Rhode Island,” noted Ryan, who also is a member of the Rhode Island Adult Day Services Association, a group representing programs in all of the state’s 39 cities and towns.

         Ryan stated that adult day centers provide a comprehensive planned program of health, social and support services in a protective setting during daytime hours.  “Activities include mental processing programs such as current affairs and word association games to stimulate thinking more physical activities like volleyball, dancing and range of motion exercises.”

         Services at adult day centers are specifically designed to meet the individual needs of the elderly and strongly focus on ways to help relieve the stress of the caregivers.  Such programs are critical in assisting caregivers to maintain their loved ones at home in the community.

       Adds Sharon Rice, director of the Comprehensive Day Care Center, a program of the Jewish Seniors Agency, “One of the most important factors of a day care program is that adult children taking care of elderly frail parents don’t have to worry about how they can take care of their parents, work a full-time demanding job while caring for their children.”  She noted that most adult children prefer to have their parents “age in place” at home rather than have to institutionalize them in a nursing home.

   According to Rice, today’s day care centers in Rhode Island have undergone vigorous licensing procedures through the state’s Department of Elderly Affairs to ensure quality.

          Ensuring quality through licensure can increase the adult children’s willingness to place his or her parents in an adult day care program, she said.

         Currently, Rice states there are 30 frail elderly persons enrolled in her day care program, attending each day.  Although located in Wayland Square on Providence’s East Side, Jewish Seniors Agency program, established in 1974, also serves East Providence and nearby Pawtucket.

         Keeping a person at home is not always the best option. Rice says, because the older person becomes isolated. “Day care can promote friendship, social interaction and therapeutic activities,” she added.

        “Person with Alzheimer or related-dementia, Parkinson’s disease or  who have suffered strokes receive supportive services at the day care center from a registered nurse, a professional social worker, and a certified nursing assistant,” Rice added, noting that participants also are served kosher meals.

      When adult children are faced with care giving responsibilities for their loved ones they do have a choice – to keep the person at home and not in a nursing home, Rice quipped.  “Adult children should feel comfortable in knowing that they can keep a frail elderly family member at home and in the surrounding community.

         Herb Weiss is a freelance Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.   He can be reached at