Do Older Adults in Assisted Living Experience More Physical Decline

Care communities housingMany older adults move from their homes to assisted living communities because they’re experiencing challenges remaining at home either physically or cognitively. Many move because adult children have been acting in the role of caregiver and the time required to support care of parents becomes unrealistic. Some older adults are unable to manage medications, others have difficulty grocery shopping and cooking meals and others are simply isolated, lonely and depressed. Do assisted living communities support these individuals in remaining as independent as possible or do they further advance the physical declines experienced by older adult by helping too much because it’s quick and easy?

This probably seems like a silly question when the goal of assisted living is to assist. However we all know that the more we can do and continue to do for ourselves the more physically and mentally able we will remain, especially as we age into our 80’s and 90’s. Common services in assisted living communities include bathing, dressing, laundry, housekeeping etc. While it’s certainly nice to have assistance with these tasks, how does not doing these tasks affect an older adult physically and mentally? Does it make them less able? More doubtful rather than confident in their abilities? More dependent?

Would it not be better to hire in home caregivers to provide support — while still practical — to allow older adults to remain motivated to do as much for themselves as possible? Or, if an assisted living community is necessary, would it be better to make sure the staff doesn’t totally take over? Again, this probably seems like a silly suggestion when the job of the care staff is to provide care. But, can they provide so much care that an older adult becomes reliant on the care staff rather than remaining reliant on themselves? Admittedly some activities like bathing take longer if an older adult does the activity only with stand by supervision rather than having hands on assistance. Do required staff efficiencies like a requirement to bathe ten residents by a certain time of day result in the inability of older adults to perform these activities themselves? If yes, are there other options?

And what of activities? How much better would an older adult living in an assisted living community be if their physician recommended they attend exercises classes on a regular basis to maintain strength, flexibility and to reduce falls? Staff at assisted living communities will tell you that they lose residents to nursing homes because of broken hips and other fractures. Assisted living residents become reliant on wheel chairs rather than making an effort to walk 10 to 20 to 30 feet each day because there’s no one to motivate them to make an effort.

Older adults benefit from motivation to do as much as possible for themselves. It should be the care industry’s standard to support independence rather than efficiency even if the effort to do so takes just a little more time.

©2013 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved

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