How to Start a Special-Needs Adult Day Care

Dealing with special-needs adults — those who have dementia, Parkinson's disease, strokes or disabilities — can drain and exhaust their loved ones. Opening an adult day care is one way to give caretakers a breather; families leave their parent or adult child with you for the day, which gives them a chance to work or relax. You provide your clients with services that may include meals, recreation and medical care.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Launching an adult day care successfully requires research. You have to know whether there are enough special-needs adults in your community to make the business feasible and what their physical and mental problems are. You also need to learn the state elderly day care requirements that you have to conform to.

Research the Market

Before starting a day care for adults with special needs, determine whether your local community can support your business. Research the demographics and see if there are enough potential customers to support a day care for adults with disabilities. A community with a large senior population, for example, holds more potential for your business than one composed mostly of young singles.

  • Census information is public, and it's a good source of information on demographics in every state, county and town. 

  • The Area Agency on Aging for your area can provide more information, as can the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA).  

  • Talk with geriatric specialists, mental-health professionals, rehab specialists, and other medical professionals who deliver services to your target population. Don't focus only on seniors: adults can suffer from physical and mental disabilities at much younger ages. 

  • Meet with disease-specific associations or networks of caregiver groups dealing with conditions such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, blindness, arthritis and head trauma. 

  • Talk to Meals on Wheels, if it's around in your area. 

  • Meet with someone from the Veteran's Administration's local branch. 

  • Determine a geographic range for your operation. Even if there's no competing service within 200 miles, people are unlikely to drive that far for day care. A rule of thumb is to assume a maximum one-hour commute. 

You want to know not only the size of your potential client base but also how existing day care services meet their needs. If the existing centers providing day care for adults with disabilities offer good medical care but few social or recreational opportunities, that's an opening you can use.

What Sort of Services?

While legal elderly day care requirements are stringent in some states, there's still a lot of flexibility in the services you offer. A day care for adults with special needs can focus on caring for them medically, socially or a mix of both.

Medical programs have a nurse on staff, health checks and medication monitoring. Even nondisabled seniors can lose track if they take a large number of meds, so monitoring is a valuable service. Socially focused adult day care centers may offer meals, educational activities, transportation and outside trips as day-program activities for adults with disabilities. Baths, showers, hair care, rehab and medical injections are also possible services you could offer.

Don't be discouraged if you can't personally provide all the services you'd like to offer. Many adult day care centers contract out services such as nursing or transportation rather than tackling those jobs themselves.

Elderly Day Care Requirements

To have a successful day care center, you need to meet federal, state and local elderly day care requirements for licensing and certification. The requirements vary from state to state and depend partly on the services you offer. Providing medical treatment triggers more stringent standards than if you focus on senior social events; if you handle Medicaid or Medicare patients, that may bring on added requirements.

To find specific information for your state, go online. You should be able to find elderly day care requirements at the websites for your state health and human services or health care licensing departments. Even states that don't have licensing or certification may have guidelines and advice for operating an adult day care center.