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Adult day cares fill the gap

When loved ones with dementia can no longer safely be alone, adult day cares are a big help for families who have promised to care for them.

When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it probably isn’t a complete surprise. Family members have likely noticed signs like forgetfulness, repetition in speech, or difficulty managing certain tasks.

Still, hearing the words, “It’s Alzheimer’s,” is devastating. There are so many concerns for both the patient and the family. Roles will change, responsibilities will shift, and the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty.

Safety First

Once a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, the first concern is safety. In the early stages of the disease, which may last for years, patients will likely still be able to live independently and may even work and drive.  

During the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, a greater level of care is required. The patient will need to stop driving, and staying alone is a safety concern. At this point, it may be time to move in with relatives.

Adult day care can help fill the gap of care for dementia patients living with loved ones and can delay placement in a residential facility. Whether the caregiver must work during the day or needs respite care for shorter periods of time, these centers provide a safe place for patients and may offer additional services like hygiene care and occupational therapy. 

The average cost of adult day care is $71 per day, or $17,750 per year (250 days), according to the American Elder Care Research Organization. Assisted living is an average of $45,000 annually, and skilled nursing home care averages $82,855 per year.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are 4,600 adult day service providers in the U.S., serving 286,300 patients. Like other health services, however, rural America is underserved.

Creating the Memory Farm

Johanna Jameson is a licensed clinical professional counselor specializing in Alzheimer’s and serves as a care consultant for the Alzheimer’s Association. Last fall, she founded Memory Farm, LLC, an adult day care in Elburn, Illinois, about an hour west of Chicago. 

“Before we opened our doors, people in this area had to go into the city for care,” she says. “Facilities like this can help keep people in the home longer, especially in rural areas where assisted living might not be available and nursing homes are the only option. We give caregivers a break or allow them to continue to work.” Caregivers can even book time at Memory Farm online.

The heart of Memory Farm is the 1840 farmhouse. “This doesn’t feel clinical at all,” Jameson says. “It feels like you’re walking into someone’s home.” One of the favorite rooms in the house is the kitchen, where clients can safely cook with supervision. “Cooking brings back so many memories of family,” she says. “People with dementia may lose the ability to cook safely in their home, but with us there watching, they don’t have to lose that aspect of their lives.”

Memory Farm is currently set up to handle around six clients at a time. “We have some who come every day and want to be here all day,” Jameson says. “We keep things small because we want it to feel like a family.” 

The property also features a barn, goats, chickens, and 3 acres that have been fenced for safe wandering. “Wandering is an issue with dementia, so we have made it safe,” Jameson says. “We have wandering stations set up around the property so people can stop and sort items or do other activities.”

Over the winter, clients and staff keep busy planning their gardens for spring planting. They will have a vegetable garden, cut flower garden, and sensory garden, all with stepping stones for easy access. “If a client has a favorite flower or vegetable, we will include it in the gardens,” Jameson says. “They can grow their favorite tomatoes, harvest them, then make sauce for a full-circle experience.”

The sensory garden is a good place for clients to share memories. “We’ll ask them what a certain plant feels or smells like, and if it reminds them of anything,” Jameson says. “Sometimes they’ll say it reminds them of their mom, which is really neat.”

Clients also make candles and do other crafts, some of which will be sold along with produce at a farm stand this summer. Clients will run the stand with help from staff.

All in the Family

Running Memory Farm is a family affair. Jameson’s husband, John, serves as director of business development. He is a business executive with a master’s degree in organizational psychology. 

Her mother, Debra Fleischman, is Memory Farm’s director of education, providing clinical services such as testing for clients and training volunteers. She has an extensive background in aging and Alzheimer’s, and she is a professor and senior scientist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. 

Even the family dog, Pema, is involved in the business. As a therapy dog and American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen, Pema provides unconditional love and entertainment to clients.

Beyond the core staff, Memory Farm relies on volunteers. “Some are retirees or folks who have cared for parents with Alzheimer’s and want to continue that role. Others are students looking for experience,” Jameson says. “We have such a great core group of volunteers.”

Creating a Sense of Purpose

Jameson says she thanks clients for coming and asks for their help throughout the day so they feel like they have a purpose. “Changing the verbiage makes them feel like they’re needed,” she says.

Having grown up in the suburbs, Jameson is new to gardening and managing chickens and goats. Luckily, several of her clients grew up on farms. “I’ll ask them if they have a better idea of how to do things, and I talk to them about their experiences,” she says. Since long-term memories are generally more clear for dementia patients, they often share childhood stories.

The clients really enjoy the farm’s animals. “We’ve had folks who are not motivated to get up from in front of the TV, but once they see the goats jumping around outside, they want to go out and see them. That engages their minds and also encourages physical activity,” Jameson says. Since she is also a certified yoga instructor specializing in senior and chair yoga, she also leads classes for clients to keep them moving.

Memory Farm also offers a support group for caregivers, individual counseling sessions, and a free monthly Memory Café. At the Memory Café events, people with dementia and their caregivers can visit the farm together, socialize, enjoy activities, and receive education and support. “The Memory Café is very validating,” Jameson says. “It’s reassuring to caregivers to see that other families are going through the same things.

“We hear from children of clients all the time that they promised to take care of their parents,” Jameson says. “Placing loved ones in someone else’s care is still caring for them. If they’re ready for day care or skilled care, that means they’re no longer safe on their own and you’re putting them in an environment where they are safe. They may not always understand it, but it’s the compassionate thing to do.”

Learn More

Alzheimer's Facts

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Americans with dementia is set to increase dramatically in the next 30 years. The organization offers these statistics.

  • 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s dementia, and that number is expected to reach 14 million by 2050.
  • A new patient is diagnosed with dementia every 65 seconds.
  • From 2000 to 2015, Alzheimer’s deaths increased by 123%.
  • 1 in 3 seniors dies as a result of dementia, more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
  • Nearly two thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Older Hispanics are 1.5 times as likely and African-Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s than older white Americans.
  • 83% of help provided to those with dementia come from unpaid family members and friends. 
  • These 16.1 million caregivers provide 18.4 billion hours of care per year, valued at $232 billion.
  • 34% of caregivers are themselves age 65 or older.
  • Two thirds of caregivers are women; more than one third are daughters of the patient.
  • One fourth of caregivers are in the sandwich generation (caring for an aging parent with dementia and a child under age 18).
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