Adult Day Care is Better Care

June 25, 2009

Caring for an elderly family member can be stressful, and it can also pose health threats to everyone involved.  Dr. Steven Zarit, professor and head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, received a $3 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to study the effects of caregiving on familial caregivers. Specifically, he will be looking at people who care for family members with dementia, and how adult day care impacts the stress levels of all individuals involved.

People with dementia experience progressive memory loss, which can lead them to act in a variety of behaviors that aren’t always easy to deal with. They may try to leave the house, struggle with dressing, reject help, and become agitated. This erratic behavior requires constant surveillance, and any lapses in watching could lead to a dangerous situation. Trained professionals are more prepared to deal with these types of behaviors, and can experience less stress than family members.

“Using adult day care can reduce stress for family members, by lifting the burden of responsibility from them for a few hours. At the same time, day care provides stimulating activities that promote sleep and well-being in those being cared for,” said Zarit.

Zarit will be interviewing and collecting saliva samples from caregivers on eight consecutive days to test both self-perceptions of stress and physiological stress. Because adult day care is typically used only three or four days a week, he will be able to assess how stress levels fluctuate when day care is used or not used.

“In many studies that test stress in individuals, the subjects might only have one day that they experience high stress,” said Zarit. “In this experiment, though, participants will be experience several days of high stress. This should give us better understand the mechanism through which stress affects our health, and it will be able to tell us what happens what happens, physiologically, when someone reports having a good or bad day.”

Through his research, Zarit will be able to assess whether or not using day care truly improves the health of people suffering from dementia and their family members. He is targeting 180 participants over three years. He will be working primarily with adult day care centers in New Jersey, which are known for providing excellent day care service.


Editors: Zarit can be reached at additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or