The Evolution of Assisted Living


National Assisted Living Week is recognized during September 9-15, 2012.

Hundreds of health care professionals advocated on Capitol Hill this summer to protect funding to the long term care industry. Their goal was to reinforce the vital role residential care communities play in the local economy as well as the increase in health care for the older adult and disabled population.

Currently 1.5 million Americans live in skilled nursing and assisted living communities.

Data from 2010 states that there are approximately 6,315 professionally managed assisted living communities nationwide with approximately 475,500 apartments. The number of older Americans (persons 65 years or older) will more than double by 2030 compared to 2000. Approximately 72.1 million people or 19% of the U.S. population will be 65 by the year 2030. Due to lack of construction financing for senior housing during the recent U.S. housing crisis, the supply of available communities has been reduced. With a growing senior population that will be living longer, the senior housing industry expects more residential care communities will need to be created to handle the increased demand. This rise in residents will be reflected in an evolution of service offerings to cater to the diverse resident base found in these communities. Communities will be created to be places where people want to live not where they need to live due to physical, emotional or mental health issues. 

Some trends that are occurring now in these communities and will continue to evolve are specialized memory care units. As the fifth leading cause of death for those aged 65 or older, it is projected that Alzheimer’s disease will affect 16 million Americans by 2050. Alzheimer’s disease requires specialized skills and an often overwhelming time commitment from the caregiver. If those living with the disease can afford it, they can live full-time in an assisted living environment that specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The average monthly cost to live in an assisted living community is $3,270/month. This is for basic level of care. Prices vary greatly depending on location, room size, amenities, health issues and services offered. Personal finances affected by the U.S. economy combined with the cost to live in an assisted living community have brought about another industry trend, the timing when caregiving transitions from the family to a residential care community. To save money and delay the need to move into an assisted living community many seniors and their families are choosing to retrofit their own home to keep their loved one at home for as long as possible. This has led to the recent boom in home modifications for elder safety. Statistics indicate 7 out of 10 individuals say that they are caring for a parent. 36% say that the person they are caring for lives with them. 55% of caregivers have been providing care for over 3 years. This has led to another trend. People are joining assisted living communities at an older age when health issues are more prevalent. Professional care coordination and communication between medical providers and family members is essential to ensure that a resident is getting quality and timely medical care. Many assisted living communities are embracing third party partnerships with professionals in the community that can provide additional services to enhance each resident’s experience and improve quality of life. Independent, private patient advocates or medical navigators along with other health and wellness professionals are examples of third party partnerships.

You will begin to see more communities utilizing technology solutions for monitoring residents and communicating with medical providers. Some communities will cater to ‘green standards’ and promote their renewable and sustainable building products and living environment. Organic foods and gardening will be available at some select communities.

Several communities are already extending their reach to the local community. They are offering programs and services to individuals not residing at the assisted living community. For example, adult day care and geriatric medical providers are now located within some assisted living communities. Additional services that support the elderly still living in their homes will be offered at assisted living communities. This provides an additional revenue stream to the communities and gives those living at home (future potential residents) an opportunity to see and experience the assisted living community firsthand.

Another trend you will continue to see is a continuum of care. Many communities want their residents to be able to ‘age in place’ and not have to relocate to another facility due to a decline in health and increase care needs. ‘Enhanced Assisted Living’ communities will have licensed nursing care available 24/7. A primary care manager may also be available for each resident to encourage individualized, relationship-based care.

The Eden Alternative, developed by Dr. Bill Thomas, has a philosophy for culture change in this industry that will continue to resonate and take hold within communities. The primary concept is to create a living environment for elders that will nurture them rather than being an institutional facility for the frail and elderly. 

Assisted living communities have certainly evolved over the past 25 years to provide a myriad of choices for consumers and a more positive living environment for the elderly. 


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