UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How are you this morning?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Fine. Holding up.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Holding up?
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Mid-morning at the Wellness and Arts Center at Iona Senior Services in Washington, D.C., there's coffee and smiles in the dining room, bright paintings on the wall and lots of catching up between people who see each other all the time. Iona provides what's called adult day services. It's for people who can live on their own but could still use help and aren't ready to move into any kind of senior home. We sat down with Susan Morgan (ph) and Cynthia Allen (ph), who told us what they looked forward to that day.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Oh, opera's this afternoon.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Opera's this afternoon. I'm not going to do opera.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I am. See, I like music. She likes art. It's different. That's OK because they have everything.
SIMON: So you make friends here?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Yeah. Yeah, it's hard not to. You have assigned seats at lunch, but they notice who you like to eat with and they put you with people you like. And if you don't like the people - I have had little chats with the management.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: And they're very supportive.
SIMON: Cecilia Weeks (ph) sat with her friend sipping coffee.
How do you fill your day here? What you do here?
CECILIA WEEKS: Oh, enjoyable. All of us, we love each other and we get along very, very well with each other. That's why I like coming.
SIMON: Ms. Weeks lives in Washington, D.C. now, but moved to town in her 20s.
C. WEEKS: It was from Panama, the republic of Panama, 40 years ago.
SIMON: And did you work?
C. WEEKS: I worked for D.C. government.
SIMON: What'd you do for the D.C. government?
C. WEEKS: It was in charge of - how do they call it?
SIMON: Cecilia Weeks's memory can be a little foggy these days. We reached her niece, Vivian (ph) Weeks, to fill in some details for the aunt she loves.
VIVIAN WEEKS: She raised a son as a single mother in Washington, D.C. while she worked as an administrative assistant for Catholic University.
SIMON: And later she did work for the D.C. government, but on the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Vivian Weeks says of her aunt...
V. WEEKS: Cecilia Weeks is a wonderful (laughter), feisty, 70-year-old aunt.
SIMON: But she has diabetes and dementia. Vivian Weeks told us that she worried a couple of years ago when she couldn't reach her aunt on the phone and found out from her church that Cecilia was in the hospital. Vivian Weeks brought her aunt home to her family, but it was clear her aunt needed more than companionship.
V. WEEKS: The first morning that Cecilia came to live with us, she went into hypoglycemic shock. It looks very much like somebody who's in a seizure - eyes in the back of their heads, shaking tremendously. So that was just the beginning.
SIMON: Vivian Weeks had three children at home too, and caring for her aunt put a strain on her family. She started to look for support and found Iona, but...
V. WEEKS: The news was not good at that time. What they said to us was this program is a very good one, but it costs approximately - I believe it was $110, $120 a day - so she couldn't afford it and that was that. But a year later, we got a call from Iona. Miraculously, they said look, we've got a grant from the D.C. Office on Aging, so your aunt will likely qualify for it and we'd like to meet her.
SIMON: It turns out that only about a third of the people who come to the Iona Wellness and Art Center currently pay the full fee. The rest receive some kind of financial support from grants, Medicaid or the Veterans Administration. Vivian Weeks says her aunt is able to enjoy the independence of living alone with support from Iona's program. A day service center can give a family peace of mind.
V. WEEKS: It is not babysitting, but I tell you, when she's there I don't worry about if she's OK.
SIMON: Sharon O'Connor is the director of the Wellness and Art Center at Iona. She says that participants often begin the program with qualms and gripes about what age has meant they can no longer do.
O'CONNOR: I used to be able to drive, and, I used to be able to go anywhere I wanted to go.
And what we try to do is figure out what are the things that they can still do and what are the things that bring them joy in their lives? And so those are the things that we include in our program.
SIMON: And in many ways, the senior citizens who come to Iona are still growing.
O'CONNOR: The stories that I get from the families are pretty amazing because they say, I had no idea that my mother could still paint, or, I had no idea that my mother still had the enthusiasm to get up and dance.
SIMON: Vivian Weeks says her aunt has new delight in life.
V. WEEKS: Because she is getting physical therapy in addition to art therapy there several times a week, it changes her whole disposition. She never knew that she could really be an artist.
SIMON: Most of all, Iona seems to keep the people who come to this adult day service center connected to life, to activities and friendship. Sharon O'Connor says...
O'CONNOR: Isolation is actually very dangerous to a person's health. It really causes their health to decline. It causes depression. It causes increased hospitalization. Isolation is not a good thing.
SIMON: There are about 4,800 centers that provide adult day services in the country which serve more than a quarter of a million people on any given day, but the number of senior citizens grows each day. Many are vigorous and independent but also require close attention to their health and help with the tasks of daily life, not to mention, people to have lunch with and laugh with. Adult day services provide all that and may become more common in American life as more of the population grows into old age. There are 63 people registered in the Iona Wellness and Arts Center now. They're expanding and hope they can accommodate as many as 85 people like Cecilia Weeks, who may have slowed a bit, but who still like to dance.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: Go Cecilia. Go Cecilia. I like those hips. (Laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.