The New York Times had a fantastic article about the growing market for assisted living facilities (ALF). Unlike nursing homes, the facilities generally do not provide skilled medical care or therapy, and stays are not paid for by Medicare or Medicaid. But are they safe for residents with dementia? The article discusses several examples of neglect and abuse including a woman who was not supervised properly for seven hours, and was eaten by an alligator in South Carolina.
Four in 10 residents in assisted living facilities suffer from dementia. Half are over 85. Nearly a quarter of the nation’s 30,000 assisted living facilities either house only people with dementia or have special areas known as memory care units. These wings have locked doors and other safeguards to prevent residents from leaving. The facilities often train staff members in techniques to manage behavior related to these diseases and provide activities to keep the residents engaged and stimulated.
These units usually are more expensive, with monthly costs averaging $6,472, compared with $4,835 for regular assisted living, according to a survey by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, a group that analyzes elder care market trends. Senior housing investors earned nearly 15 percent annual returns over the last five years, higher than for apartment, hotel, office and retail properties, according to the center. Beth Burnham Mace, chief economist at the center, said memory care unit construction was outpacing all other types of senior housing.
However, assisted living facilities were originally designed for people who were largely independent but required some help bathing, eating or other daily tasks. Dementia care is the fastest-growing segment of assisted living. But as these businesses aggressively market themselves to people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, facilities across the country are straining to deliver on their promises of security and attentive care, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of inspection records in the three most populous states.
In California, 45 percent of assisted living facilities have violated one or more state dementia regulations during the last five years. Three of the 12 most common California citations in 2017 were related to dementia care.
In Florida, one in every 11 assisted living facilities has been cited since 2013 for not meeting state rules designed to prevent residents from wandering away.
And in Texas, nearly a quarter of the facilities that accept residents with Alzheimer’s have violated one or more state rules related to dementia care, such as tailoring a plan for each resident upon admission or ensuring that staff members have completed special training, according to nearly six years of records.
“There is a belief in our office that many facilities do not staff to the level” necessary to meet the unanticipated “needs of residents, especially medical needs,” said Fred Steele, Oregon’s long-term-care ombudsman. “Many of these are for-profit entities. They are setting staffing ratios that maybe aren’t being set because of the care needs of the residents but are more about the bottom line of their profits.”
These concerns, though particularly acute for people with dementia, apply to all assisted living residents. They are older and frailer than assisted living residents were a generation ago. Within a year, one in five has a fall, one in eight has an emergency room visit and one in 12 has an overnight hospital stay, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The rules and regulations for assisted living remain looser than for nursing homes. The federal government does not license or oversee assisted living facilities, and states set minimal rules. Residents’ families, their lawyers and advocates say the violent behavior of agitated residents and escapes could be avoided with better training and more staff. Too many facilities are accepting residents they weren’t prepared to adequately care for because they wanted to maximize their income.
Aggressive behavior, a hallmark of dementia, is a major problem in assisted living facilities. One national study, published in 2016, found that at least 8 percent of assisted living residents were physically aggressive or abusive toward residents or staff.