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Give Me a Break – Using Senior Action Centers as Respite for Family Caregivers

If you run into a friend at the grocery store or the doctor’s office and they are the caregiver to an aging loved one or spouse, chances are they may look exhausted, drained, or just not themselves. Studies have shown that long-term family caregivers are more likely to experience a catastrophic medical emergency or even death. Caregivers naturally place the needs of others before their own and this can lead to a whole host of issues – physically, mentally, and financially.

Just this month, two caregiver spouses have reached out to me about options for their husbands – both suffering from early stage dementia. Their wives are becoming overwhelmed with the care they need and respectfully, are reaching out for help before something catastrophic does happen.

Both couples would like to receive some non-medical in home care just to provide some relief, but qualifying for the Waiver program can feel lengthy and not everyone can qualify based on their finances or medical diagnosis. So what do families do when this is the situation? What if they can’t pay for several hours of home care privately for what might be many, many years?

One option I always suggest is Senior Action Centers (SACs). Each county’s Area Aging on Aging has several centers geographically located. Today’s SACs aren’t the same as what many people think of as Senior Centers of yesterday. Most are progressive with very active seniors volunteering for projects in their communities, taking trips (think kayaking, vacations in Ocean City or an Alaskan Cruise!), and sitting at tables showing off their grandkids via facebook or Facetime.

For the couples I spoke with last month, both of them could join the Centers for free and use it as an opportunity for respite. If they attended a few days a week, it could help in many ways. They would receive a hot meal, which means caregivers can get a little break from cooking. Most centers offer free group exercises, whether it’s walking outside on the path, Thai Chi, chair exercises, etc. Although it’s no replacement for prescribed physical therapy, these classes can keep the seniors active and strong at no charge.

In my opinion, probably the most important aspect a senior action center can offer is socialization. I’ve spent many days in centers across my nine county region and the collegiality of the people in those centers never ceases to amaze me. I love how they know one another, many retired from the same employers, and live in the same neighborhoods. They know what they did over the weekend and where everyone prefers to sit for lunch. The seniors in these centers become family. That can be a huge advantage when it comes to respite. If the couple can go together and build some relationships, when the caregiver needs a break to run errands, attend an appointment, or just steal some much-deserved time to recharge, their loved one can be safe at the center among friends who understand their routines and preferences.

Realistically, this likely won’t be a long-term solution as the dementia progresses, but it’s something. It’s something available to any senior regardless of income or assets for free and can offer a valuable lifeline to the senior and caregiver alike. If you would like to learn more about the Senior Centers in your county, visit for a listing and additional resources.

PA Link to Aging and Disability Resource Center can assist consumers and the professionals who care for them in many ways. If you think PA Link can help you or a loved one, please call our toll-free Call Center at 1-800-753-8827 or email me at

[Bottorf is the PA Lead Link Coordinator for the Aging and Disability Resource Center. She covers nine counties, including Union, Snyder, Northumberland, Columbia and Montour. She can be contacted at]

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