GRAND RAPIDS — Families caring for an older adult in their home can find temporary respite from care-giving responsibilities through adult day services programs.
Such programs are designed to offer the older adult a stimulating, safe and supportive environment, with opportunities for social interaction, structured therapeutic activities, exercise, peer support, health monitoring and nutritious meals.
Gerontology Network of West Michigan, for instance, offers four adult day services centers: Friendship Place, 516 Cherry St. SE; CareTree Adult Day Services, 4065 Saladin Drive and 2766 Baldwin (Jenison); and Daybreak Adult Day Services, 4650 West U.S. 223, Adrian.
All the centers have nurses on site.
“Although these are centers that older adults come to, it really benefits the families that care for them as much as the older adult,” said Barb Coleman, vice president of marketing and communications for Gerontology Network.
“Care giving is such a stressful, stressful part of our lives that sometimes our health suffers more than that of the people we’re caring for. Without that kind of respite, it gets real difficult.”
The centers are a part of Gerontology Network’s diverse network of programs and services that address the needs of older adults, as well as the families and professionals that care for them, she said.
The adult day services centers are open to older adults and people who have health issues associated with an older adult, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Participants need not be residents of Kent County, Cole noted.
The centers operate from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and participants can choose to attend on either a half-day or full-day basis. Coleman said some respite weekend hours are available, but the hours vary depending on need. Fees are assessed on an hourly basis.
The four centers are funded, in part, by Kent County Senior Millage Service funding and by a variety of other means, Coleman said.
Some elders may be partially or completely funded through Senior Millage Service revenue.
“There are different funding supports to help each person that needs to attend adult day services,” Coleman said.
“We help families find the funding to make the program available to them. Some of the families that come here pay for it out of their pocket. Others can’t afford it, so we help find and secure the resources for them.”
Each day center can serve 30 to 40 people.
Those enrolled in one of the programs don’t have to commit to a certain number of days or hours a week. But the centers are not “drop-in” centers, Coleman pointed out.
“They tell us when they enroll how often they would like to come and what kind of time they may need,” she explained.
Participants go through an intake process that includes health screening and special needs assessment, and the staff develops a personalized care plan for each individual.
The program also cares for the families of older adults, who are considered “clients,” as well, said Cindy Streekstra, co-director of adult day services for Gerontology Network.
Streekstra oversees Friendship Place and the CareTree facility on Saladin Drive in Grand Rapids.
“We’re caring for the caregiver, too,” Streekstra said. “It really gives the caretaker a break from care giving. For some people, if their loved one did not come to the program, they would have to put them in some kind of residential living situation.”
Streekstra said the centers offer a variety of social and recreational programs during the day so participants have choices. Some older adults, for instance, participate in walking groups that monitor the number of miles they’re walking. One of the group’s goals this summer is to walk enough steps to get to Grand Haven, Streekstra said.
For others, art, music or choir activities might be the highlight of their day, depending on individual tastes, she said.
“What happens with many of these individuals is that they are not able to participate in the kinds of activities they had throughout their lifetime — whether due to Alzheimer’s, stroke or Parkinson’s disease. They’ve suffered a lot of losses.”
Activities are set up for success, geared to the level at which each individual can participate and find success, Streekstra explained. She said the programs’ goal is a positive experience that helps people recognize what they are still capable of doing and doing successfully.
One participant, for example, was a very active, involved individual who suffered a stroke. Streekstra describes her as “simply amazing.”
“Since coming to our program, she truly has blossomed. She’s writing poetry again. She has never painted before, but is now doing beautiful artwork. She has also become a mentor for another individual who has had a stroke. She works with him everyday, teaching him the alphabet.”
Streekstra said the programs provide a therapeutic environment, with social interaction as the central theme throughout the day.
“We set the tone, so that the moment they walk in until they leave that day, we are working with them in a very intentional manner, encouraging them to build relationships with other participants.”
The staff is more concerned about the process rather than the outcome of activities, or what happens to an individual internally, on a personal level, while involved in the process of an activity.
“That’s where we see the growth. That’s the key,” Streekstra observed. “That’s our whole theme throughout the day.”
The families of older adults in the programs see the program as a lifeline and a way to keep their loved one at home and independent for much longer than they ordinarily would be, Coleman added.