West Roxbury

All in a day’s work: Adult day health takes hold
By Lucy Sutherland

For many seniors, staying active can be the key to staying happy.

They are places to socialize, tosing songs, play games and make crafts with friends. But first on the list is safety.

Adult day health centers – places where especially frail seniors living at home can spend the day with friends and healthcare professionals – are growing in popularity, said Ruth Nasman, director of The Senior Place, an adult day health center in West Roxbury.

“Our staff is great, interacting, socializing with them. That’s a very important component of keeping them healthy,” said Nasman.

Nationwide, more than 3,500 adult day health centers provide services to 150,000 older Americans each day, according to the National Adult Day Services Association.

And Bill Palladino of the city’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs agrees with Nasman that demand for adult day health programs in Boston is on the rise – chiefly because so many family caregivers work.

“Most [seniors living at home] have a primary care-person who works during the day, so day care covers this,” said Palladino.“Maybe 20 to 30 percent of our clients are here because they’re too frail to be home alone or they have issues of depression, which the socialization is fabulous for,” said Nasman.

Many also suffer from strokes, memory loss and dementia.

And as adult day health programs continue to grow in popularity even for the most physically and mentally challenged, more and more seniors are staying out of nursing homes.

According to a 2003 Department of Health and Human Services report, the number of nursing homes nationwide decreased 13 percent between 1985 and 2003.

Dr. Frank Caro, director of the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said the decrease in nursing home care is part of a historical trend away from institutionalization. “In most aspects of society we’ve gotten away from the notion of people living in institutions,” Caro said.

The population aged 85 and older is the fastest growing segment of the older
-- National Council on Agin

Caro also pointed to the steep cost of nursing homes. “It’s an expensive proposition,” he added.

“The state doesn’t want to pay for [nursing home care]. The families don’t have the money. So definitely, we’re in a healthcare climate where adult day health is becoming very big,” Nasman said.

In an effort to promote adult day health, the state government subsidizes programs for most users.

This extra financial boost brings the price down substantially: Nursing homes can cost thousands of dollars a week, but one day at the Senior Place costs only $55 per person.

Such low-cost programs have helped tight-knit West Roxbury families keep their elders living with them.

“Children are still in this area,” said Cynthia Fey, director of Home Instead Senior Care in West Roxbury. “A lot have supported moms and dads in the aging process.”

For some seniors, however, adult day health is still a difficult sell.

“There’s family members that know about us that would desperately love to get their family member in here,” Nasman said, “but [seniors] walk in the door and they say, ‘These are all old people, I don’t belong here.’”

“It’s admitting that you’ve lost the independence, that you can’t be alone. It’s a very difficult thing,” she said.


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