MSD Manual

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Day Care for Older People


Debra Bakerjian

, PhD, APRN, Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, UC Davis

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020
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NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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Day care for older people may involve

  • Treating a problem

  • Maintaining the person's condition

  • Providing social activities or mental health care (such as group therapy)

People can go to day care facilities for several hours a day for several days a week. These facilities may also provide a place where family members who care for an older person full-time can take the older person and get a break from caregiving (a service called respite care). By doing so, they may help delay or avoid placement in a nursing home.

In the United States, there are only about 4,800 adult day care programs compared with more than 16,000 nursing homes. Most day care programs are small, serving about 20 people. However, in total, these day care programs serve more than 280,000 older adults on any given day.

Day hospitals are a type of day care facility. They provide complex tests and treatments, rehabilitation services, and intensive skilled care. They are designed for people who are recovering from a recent problem such as a stroke, an amputation, or a fracture. The primary care practitioner or a hospital may send a person to a day hospital. These facilities usually provide care for a limited time (6 weeks to 6 months) and are expensive because the ratio of staff members to patients is high.

Maintenance day care programs provide limited skilled care (such as screening for and monitoring of chronic disorders) and physical exercise. The goals are to prevent deterioration of the person's mental and physical condition, to maintain or improve the person's ability to function for as long as possible, and to prevent chronic disorders from worsening. Also, these programs include activities to improve the person's self-image, provide stimulation, and prevent loneliness, isolation, and withdrawal. Maintenance programs can provide long-term care and are less expensive than day hospital programs.

Social day care programs provide counseling, group therapy, activities to maintain or improve mental function, strategies to compensate for losses, and social and recreational activities. They may resemble a senior center or a mental health care center, providing care for older people with dementia or psychiatric disorders.

Financial issues

Medicare does not cover day care services. Funds usually come from the Older Americans Act (which funds services to help keep older people functional and independent), Medicaid waiver programs, long-term care insurance, and/or private funds.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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