Adult Day Services Support the Health of Alzheimer’s Caregivers

September 18–24, 2016 is National Adult Day Services Week

Sponsored by the National Adult Day Services Association (, this special week has been celebrated since 1983. Adult day centers are places where older adults and people with physical or mental challenges can go during the day for socializing, recreation and activities, help with personal care, and to be safe. Many centers also provide health and rehabilitation-related services. Participants in adult day centers most often live with family members, but many still live alone in their own homes, or in assisted living communities, or in adult family homes.

Adult day centers not only benefit these senior and disabled participants; they also provide respite for family members, allowing them to continue working and taking care of other responsibilities. And it’s not just their careers that benefit – many recent studies show that the health of family caregivers is protected when their loved one attends an adult day center.

This is especially true when the person receiving care has Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, say experts. During the past few years, researchers from Penn State University have been studying these health benefits, and the results are impressive. Dementia caregiving offers many stressors, and stress raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and a host of other illnesses – even Alzheimer’s. In a 2013 study that appeared in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, a team headed by Prof. Steven Zarit measured the levels of a beneficial hormone that helps control the effects of stress, and found that on days their loved one attended an adult day center, dementia caregivers had a higher level of the beneficial hormone.

Said Zarit, “We know that caregivers are at increased risk of illness, because of the long hours of care they provide and the high levels of stress. These findings suggest that use of adult day care services may protect caregivers against the harmful effects of stress associated with giving care to someone with dementia.”

In a second Penn State study, this one appearing in Health Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, doctoral candidate Yin Liu showed that when a person with dementia attends an adult day center, caregivers experience fewer of the emotional ups and downs – such as depression and anger – that are linked to an increased risk of illness. Liu explained, “We know that people who are more emotionally labile – who have greater fluctuations – are at more risk of developing health problems when they are in stressful situations.”

Liu, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Penn State Center for Healthy Aging, asked 173 family dementia caregivers to keep a diary of their experiences over the course of a week. Said Liu, “The amount of fluctuation was lower when people used more days of adult day services for their relative across the period we observed them.”

The team also found that the participants whose loved ones spent more than the average amount of days in adult daycare not only exhibited greater emotional stability, but also reported better sleep quality – another factor for good health.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, reporting on studies from Penn State University. Learn more about adult day centers and National Adult Day Services Week on the website of the National Adult Day Services Association (

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