Assisted living communities too often fail to meet the needs of older adults and should focus more on residents’ medical and mental health concerns, according to a recent report by a diverse panel of experts.
It’s a clarion call for change inspired by the altered profile of the population that assisted living now serves.
Residents are older, sicker, and more compromised by impairments than in the past: 55% are 85 and older, 77% require help with bathing, 69% with walking, and 49% with toileting, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Also, more than half of residents have high blood pressure, and a third or more have heart disease or arthritis. Nearly one-third have been diagnosed with depression and at least 11% have a serious mental illness. As many as 42% have dementia or moderate-to-severe cognitive impairment.
“The nature of the clientele in assisted living has changed dramatically,” yet there are no widely accepted standards for addressing their physical and mental health needs, said Sheryl Zimmerman, who led the panel. She’s co-director of the Program on Aging, Disability, and Long-Term Care at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
The report addresses this gap with 43 recommendations from experts including patient advocates, assisted living providers, and specialists in medical, psychiatric, and dementia care that Zimmerman said she hopes will become “a new standard of care.”
One set of recommendations addresses staffing. The panel proposes that ratios of health aides to residents be established and that either a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse be available o …