“Under the boardwalk, down by the sea,” sings popular local performer Dusti Dufresne, and her audience at CHD’s Hawthorn Adult Day Health (ADH) program in West Springfield sings along. Some of them dance. It’s obvious that they’re having a great time, and that’s what music does—it brings out the fun in people.
For the participants at ADH, classic rock and pop music is the soundtrack of their day—they listen to it constantly, so it was a treat for them to hear their favorite songs performed live. “The group we have here really loves music—and don’t we all?” said CHD Director of Day Services Audrey Monroe. She added that daily music at ADH is not simply entertainment—music is also widely recognized for its physical and mental health benefits, including stress and depression reduction, along with improving cognitive skills.
Guest musicians and DJs are just one of the many activities that AHD participants enjoy, whether it be arts and crafts, playing bingo, painting, or visiting a park or the library.
Adult day health programs are becoming more and more popular as many Americans are looking to enable their parents to live at home and “age in place” as long as possible as an alternative to going to a retirement community or nursing home.
Although traditional community “senior centers” are a great place for older adults to gather for social, educational, and other activities, adult day health centers offer families and caregivers full-time help on weekdays to work, run errands, or rest while their family member is in an environment that is safe and secure. CHD’s Hawthorn ADH programs in Springfield and West Springfield provide social activities as well as more comprehensive health services, including daily management of medical needs for individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Studies show that individuals who go to adult day health centers have a better quality of life: a 2017 review of research on adult day health programs, published in the journal The Gerontologist, found that they provided health-related, social, psychological, and behavioral benefits for participants.
“CHD’s Hawthorn Adult Day Health operates on a medical model,” said Monroe. “We have registered nurses, LPNs, and social workers, and we provide care plans, behavioral plans, and we address the special nutrition needs of the people we serve. Many of them have developmental disabilities and also have chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes—or have some kind of physical impairment, such as difficulty walking.” Some have traumatic brain injury, and some have memory disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
ADH shares its care plans with participants’ physicians periodically, and flow sheets are kept to record daily staff observations.
Julie Burns, program manager at Hawthorn ADH in Springfield, added that strong social connections participants enjoy at the program are paramount to maintaining strong mental and emotional health by promoting a sense of belonging and self-worth. “We help meet the needs of our participants by essentially giving them a purpose in their day,” she said. “When the participants leave their homes and venture into the community, they socialize with their peers and engage in activities. They feel needed, cared for, and thus, important. Many participants consider our program to be their job, and feel they are contributing to society as a whole with their ‘work’ here.”
Giving Family Caregivers a Break
That same 2017 study in The Gerontologist mentioned above also pointed out that these centers play a vital role in providing respite for unpaid or informal caregivers—usually family members. Caregivers who perform constant care for family members four or more hours a week are likely to suffer work related difficulties, and most report either having to take unpaid leave, rearrange their work schedule, decrease their hours, or even turn town a promotion or job offer.
Burns said that being a caregiver “is one of the most challenging jobs there is by virtue of the level of responsibility and the fact it is a 24-7 job with little or no support. Having time during the days where a caregiver knows their loved ones are being taken care of is very important for their mental well-being.”
Monroe said that using ADH helps reduce the caregivers’ sense of “role overload” and role reversal—when a parent becomes dependent on their offspring. “We get calls from caregivers whao are very frustrated—sometimes they’re crying on the phone,” said Monroe. “They share with us that their loved one is not their mother anymore, or not their sister—the caller has become the person’s caretaker. We are hopefully giving them the opportunity to become the family member again, and not the caretaker.”
A family frequently uses ADH’s services when they see a decline in the family member and would like an extra pair of eyes to look in on them.
ADH also assists families in getting help in their homes, such as personal care attendants and certified nurse assistants, to make their lives easier—by making the phone calls and referrals for them.
Warm and Welcoming Vibe
A glimpse at a typical day at Hawthorn ADH in West Springfield reveals a lively atmosphere that engages the mind, body, and spirit. “Happy Friday!” announces ADH Assistant Manager Shannon Reyes into the microphone on a recent morning, to the response of cheers and applause. Two snacks, as well as a nutritious lunch, are served daily. Group exercise takes place every morning, followed by bingo. There are morning and afternoon group activities such as a “healthy habits” lecture, a trivia game, “name that sound,” and the “phrase game” (participants try to guess a word or phrase using an assortment of vowels and consonants based on categorical hints).
Mad Libs is a popular group activity, as is jewelry making. History is often incorporated during group time: on Ben Franklin’s birthday, for example, a group learned in detail about this Founding Father. The activities at ADH are fun, but they also enhance cognitive engagement. “Jewelry making encourages them to be creative, to use their fine motor skills, to and work on their hand-eye coordination,” said Monroe. The same with needlework, pointed out Reyes. “Needlework is huge here,” she said. “If they had their way, they’d do it every day.”
Bowling, of course, is a blast at any age. At ADH, this sport is performed with a rubber bowling ball and plastic pins, and it builds core strength, coordination, balance, camaraderie, and sportsmanship. “It also builds math skills—the players count how many pins have been knocked down and keep score,” said Monroe. To everyone’s delight, outings to actual bowling alleys, which were suspended at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, have recently returned. Safety is paramount, however, and mask wearing is still mandatory for staff and participants every day.
Monroe is also happy that group outings to restaurants—with five individuals at a time making these trips—have also made a comeback, and those served at the West Springfield ADH really like to go out to eat, whether it’s Red Rose pizzeria in Springfield, Cracker Barrel in Holyoke, or The Egg and I in South Hadley.
Every morning, participants are greeted by a daily schedule on a giant whiteboard, which also features “today in history” information. “I’m a big believer in structure for the day,” said ADH Program Manager Tiffany Pidacks. “Everyone knows what to expect, and it reduces stress.” Nonetheless, they do keep things interesting by changing the schedule four times a year and by encouraging participants to share ideas for activities, and trips. To be sure, the only item that isn’t on the daily agenda is boredom!
Burns’ favorite activities at Springfield ADH “are the ones where I get to talk to the participants and hear about their lives,” she said. “These include walks, nail care, crafts, and reminiscing.”
Adult day health centers have also been found to reduce the feeling of isolation and loneliness experienced by many vulnerable older adults, especially those with disabilities, whose social environment would otherwise be confined to their home environment and its nearby surroundings.
Indeed, Linda, an ADH participant, likes the social aspect of her day at Hawthorn. “Everybody here is pleasant,” she said. “This gives us a chance to make new friends, and not sit at home all day.”
“Yes,” chimed in Keith, another participant. “This gets us out of the house.”
Fellow participant Lisa agreed. “The staff here are super nice,” she said. She also echoed Monroe’s comment about their love of music as “Sweet Caroline” played in the background. “The music is great,” she said. “We just had a dance party the other day. Her favorite activities: painting, trivia and Pokeno, which is a game that is a combination of poker and keno. “This is a fun place,” she said. “I look forward to coming every day.”
CHD’s Hawthorn Adult Day Health programs in Springfield and West Springfield are open weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Program managers would like participants to come at least two days a week, and many of them are there five days a week. Free transportation is available. Those interested in more information or a tour can click here.