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Alaska’s Best Kept Secret in Elder Care

by Ken Helander

Ken Helander
Ken Helander

Alaska has one of the fastest growing senior populations in the country. At AARP Alaska, we are striving to make it easier for older people to live with independence and remain in their homes and communities for as long as they can, surrounded by family and friends. We are doing this by supporting the estimated 128,000 Alaskan families who provide unpaid care to their loved ones with resources and tools; and by advocating for better quality, affordable and accessible services that support community based independently living.

We are fortunate in Alaska to have a strong network of home and community based services; it’s actually one of the very best in the nation according to AARP’s recently released report, Raising Expectations 2014: A State Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities, and Family Caregivers by AARP’s Public Policy Institute, The Commonwealth Fund and The SCAN Foundation. Legislators and policy makers have historically recognized the importance of choices that allow Alaskans to age with dignity and self-determination. They also recognize that it’s much less expensive to provide support to people within families than to rely on much more expensive and restrictive institutional care. Besides, that’s public money we’re saving, helping keep taxes lower and health care costs down.

Home and community based services cover a broad variety of supports. Included in this category are senior centers, home-delivered and congregate meal programs, transportation, in home personal care, elder abuse protections, and adult day services. It is this last one that needs some attention.

Adult Day Centers (ADC’s) are just that….places where adults, usually older people, can safely go during daytime hours, allowing family caregivers the opportunity to go to work, tend to other family and personal responsibilities, or just have some time for one’s self. ADC’s are a huge part of preventing family caregiver burnout. Not only can a loved one be safely cared for during the day, but the staff often become an invaluable extension of the care network, with another set of eyes and ears, health monitoring, and connection to other community services. Most importantly, strong supportive relationships are formed that reassure and provide guidance for the long haul.

In Alaska, there are many Adult Day Centers scattered around the state, and they serve as a very important category of care, especially for older people who are alone or live with family members. One of the things adult day center staff hear very from family care providers is “Why haven’t we heard about this before? Why don’t you spread the word that this kind of help exists?” Of course the Day Centers DO share this information; it’s just that it often doesn’t really register until someone is at the point of needing this kind of service. Hopefully, this blog can help to change that.

But it is not only the family care providers that benefit with the gift of their own time. The person needing care also has the opportunity for the continuation of their own interests, to make new friends, and to create their own stories and memories to share around the evening dinner table. Adult Day Centers specialize in activity, often out in the community where real life continues to be lived. They often undertake volunteer projects that benefit others and provide purpose and meaning. They go for walks and get exercise, and take part in many fitness activities. There are also more leisurely pursuits like arts and crafts, storytelling and music. An active day usually improves the chances that the person will sleep better at night and maintain their own energy. Nutritious meals are served daily, and there are ways the staff can help with certain kinds of personal care and hygiene.

Adult Day Centers are often funded through state or other kinds of grants that allow them to set individual charges more affordably. They also allow families a lot of flexibility with hours per day, or number of days per week, so that it can be customized to family needs. There are both for-profit Adult Day Centers (usually free-standing) and non-profit (often part of a larger agency or senior organization).

Information about Adult Day Centers can be found at AARP’s caregiver resource directory at If you have used an adult day program, please don’t keep it a secret….there are many families who need to know! Tell us about your experience so we can spread the word to others who can benefit. Contact me at, in Anchorage at 762-3314 or toll free at 1-866-227-7447.

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