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An assisted living residence or assisted living facility (ALF) is a housing facility for people with disabilities or for adults who cannot or who choose not to live independently. The term is popular in the United States, but the setting is similar to a retirement home, in the sense that facilities provide a group living environment and typically cater to an older adult population. There is also Caribbean assisted living, which offers a similar service in a resort-like environment (somewhat like assisted vacationing).
Assisted living exemplifies the shift from "care as service" to "care as business" in the broader health care arena predicted more than three decades ago. A consumer-driven industry, assisted living offers a wide range of options, levels of care, and diversity of services (Lockhart, 2009) and is subject to state rather than federal regulatory oversight. What "Assisted living" means depends on both the state and provider in question: variations in state regulatory definitions are significant and provider variables include everything from philosophy, geographic location and auspice, to organizational size and structure. Assisted living evolved from small "board and care" or "personal care" homes and offers a "social model" of care (compared to the medical model of a skilled nursing facility). The assisted living industry is a segment of the senior housing industry and assisted living services can be delivered in stand-alone facilities or as part of multi-level senior living community. The industry is fragmented and dominated by for-profit providers. In 2010, six of the seventy largest providers were non-profit and none of the top twenty was non-profit (Martin, 2010). Information in this edit is from an article published in 2012 that reviewed the industry and reports results of a research study of assisted living facilities.
In 2012 the U.S. Government estimated that there were 22,200 assisted living facilities in the U.S. (compared to 15,700 nursing homes) and that 713,300 people were residents of these facilities. The number of assisted living facilities in the U.S. has increased dramatically since the early 2000s.
In the U.S., ALFs can be owned by for-profit companies (publicly traded companies or limited liability companies [LLCs]), non-profit organizations, or governments. These facilities typically provide supervision or assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs); coordination of services by outside health care providers; and monitoring of resident activities to help to ensure their health, safety, and well-being. Assistance often includes the administration or supervision of medication, or personal care services.
In Canada, there are also some differences in how assisted living is understood from one province to the next. In most provinces, the phrase is understood as less independent than it is in the United States. People often require help with more than one of the activities of daily living or the more intensive ADLs like feeding or bathing. In the province of Alberta, "supportive living" is the distinct phrasing used for a type of care that is otherwise synonymous. The province's Supportive Living Accommodation Licensing Act is a comprehensive act with specific prescriptions governing care homes licensing, inspections and more.
Within the United States assisted living spectrum, there is no nationally recognized definition of assisted living. Assisted living facilities are regulated and licensed at the US state level. More than two-thirds of the states use the licensure term "assisted living." Other licensure terms used for this philosophy of care include residential care home, assisted care living facilities, and personal care homes. Each state licensing agency has its own definition of the term it uses to describe assisted living. Because the term assisted living has not been defined in some states it is often a marketing term used by a variety of senior living communities, licensed or unlicensed. Assisted living facilities in the United States had a national median monthly rate of $3,500.00 in 2014, a 1.45% increase over 2013 and a 4.29% increase over a five-year period from 2009-2014.
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As widely varied as the state licensing and definitions are, so are the types of physical layouts of buildings in which assisted living services are provided. Assisted living facilities can range in size from a small residential house for one resident up to very large facilities providing services to hundreds of residents. Assisted living falls somewhere between an independent living community and a skilled nursing facility in terms of the level of care provided. Continuing care retirement facilities combine independent living, assisted living, and nursing care in one facility.
People who live in newer assisted living facilities usually have their own private apartment. There is usually no special medical monitoring equipment that one would find in a nursing home, and their nursing staff may not be available at all hours. However, trained staff are usually on-site around the clock to provide other needed services. Household chores are performed: sheets are changed, laundry is done, and food is cooked and served as part of the base rent and included services. Depending on their disclosure of services, assisted living services may include medication management, bathing assistance, dressing, escorts to meals and activities, toileting, transferring, and insulin injections by an RN. Some assisted living providers also offer amenities like exercise rooms or a beauty parlor on site. Grocery service is often available too. Where provided, private apartments generally are self-contained; i.e., they have their own bedroom and bathroom, and may have a separate living area or small kitchen. Registered nurses and licensed practical nurses are available by phone or e-mail 24 hours a day, to ensure proper teaching and/or education of staff is available.
Alternatively, individual living spaces may resemble a dormitory or hotel room consisting of a private or semi-private sleeping area and a shared bathroom. There are usually common areas for socializing, as well as a central kitchen and dining room for preparing and eating meals.
An assisted living resident is defined as a resident who needs assistance with at least one of the activities of daily living.
A typical assisted living facility resident would usually be an older adult who does not need the level of care offered by a nursing home but prefers more companionship and needs some assistance in day-to-day living. Age groups will vary with every facility. There is currently a transformation occurring in long-term care. Assisted living communities are accepting higher and higher levels of care and nursing homes are becoming a place for those who are undergoing rehabilitation after a hospital stay or who need extensive assistance. Many assisted living communities now accept individuals who need assistance with all activities of daily living.
The "Overview of Assisted Living Report" from 2010 stated that 54 percent of assisted living residents are 85 years or older; 27 percent are 75–84 years old; 9 percent of residents are between 65 and 74 years; and 11 percent are younger than 65 years old. 74% of assisted living residents are female; 26 percent are male.
The residence may assist in arranging the appropriate medical, health, and dental care services for each resident. The resident generally chooses his or her medical doctor and dental services.
Residents who have periods of temporary incapacity due to illness, injury, or recuperation from surgery often choose assisted living as a supportive option to help them recover quickly so then can return home. In the case of these short-term respite stays, assisted living residences act as the bridge between hospital and home.
Short-term respite stays in assisted living are also an option for families when the primary caregiver goes out of town or is otherwise unable to provide the needed care.
More recently built facilities are designed with an emphasis on ease of use for disabled people. Bathrooms and kitchens are designed with wheelchairs and walkers in mind. Hallways and doors are extra-wide to accommodate wheelchairs. These facilities are by necessity fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) or similar legislation elsewhere.
The socialization aspects of ALFs are very beneficial to the occupants. Normally the facility has many activities scheduled for the occupants, keeping in mind different disabilities and needs.
Many ALFs also serve the needs of people with some form of dementia including Alzheimer's disease and others with mental disabilities, as long as they do not present an imminent danger to themselves or others. The sections of the building where these residents live are often referred to as memory care. In the United States, legislation enacted by each state defines not only the level of care, but often what conditions are prohibited from being cared for in such a home.
- In California, these units are not "locked" they are secured by alarms, delays, keypads needing a code, etc. However, they are not locked units like a psychiatric ward.
Many ALFs will work to accommodate a person who suffers from severe forms of Alzheimer's by having separate private units. These specialized care areas are part of the main building but are secured so residents with Alzheimer's cannot leave and possibly do harm to themselves. These care areas usually house fewer people and more attention from the caregivers is provided.
The units, usually called locked units, focus on applying cognitive and mental activities to try to help keep the mind fresh. Since there is no cure for the disease, the goal is to work at prolonging or delaying the disease. If one is not engaged in activity, his or her memory will deteriorate more rapidly.
2011 Miami Herald investigation
- "the safeguards once hailed as the most progressive in the nation have been ignored in a string of tragedies never before revealed to the public,"
- "that the Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees the state’s 2,850 assisted-living facilities, has failed to monitor shoddy operators, investigate dangerous practices or shut down the worst offenders," and
- "as the ranks of assisted-living facilities grew to make room for Florida’s booming elderly population, the state failed to protect the people it was meant to serve."
The investigation found dozens of incidents of gross mismanagement and criminal behavior at assisted living facilities across Florida, a state of 20 million people which is popular with American retirees. The newspaper requested the release of state documents related to the deaths of over 300 people in assisted living facilities between 2003 and 2011 but were denied these documents. Still, the newspaper's investigation found no less than 70 people who had died due to the "actions of their caregivers." The deaths were found to have resulted from the mismanagement of assisted living facilities and by the practices of their staff and managers who drugged residents, deprived them of basic necessities such as food and water, abused residents verbally, psychologically and physically, and neglecting their needs.
2013 Frontline investigation
At the time the documentary was broadcast and published, Frontline stated that, "Today, nearly 750,000 people live in assisted living facilities across the country. National for-profit chains, concerned both about caring for their residents and pleasing their shareholders, have come to dominate the industry. Standards for care and training—and even definitions for the term 'assisted living'—vary from state to state. Assisted living facilities, unlike nursing homes, are not regulated by the federal government." An accompanying written brief cites deaths of residents, facilities that are understaffed, employees that are inadequately trained, and that an overall "push to fill facilities and maximize revenues has left staff overwhelmed and the care of residents endangered."
A related article by ProPublica (Thomson and Jones, July 29, 2013) states that a facility operated by Emeritus Senior Living "...had been found wanting in almost every important regard. And, in truth, those 'specially trained' staffers hadn’t actually been trained to care for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, a violation of California law." It goes on to say, "The facility relied on a single nurse to track the health of its scores of residents, and the few licensed medical professionals who worked there tended not to last long," but also that "During some stretches, the facility went months without a full-time nurse on the payroll." ProPublica's article claimed the problem was not specific to one facility and that "State inspectors for years had cited Emeritus facilities across California." Emeritus replied to that claim, describing "any shortcomings as isolated," as well as that "any problems that arise are promptly addressed." The company cited their "growing popularity as evidence of consumer satisfaction."
Comparison between assisted living and personal care
In Pennsylvania, personal care and assisted living are terms that are defined separately.
Personal care and assisted living in PA are regulated by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Human Services Licensing (a division of the Department of Human Services). Up until January 2011, the terms “assisted living” and “personal care” were considered interchangeable. At that time, Pennsylvania began licensing assisted living facilities separately from personal care facilities.
Chapter 2800 of the 55 Pennsylvania Code defines assisted living as “a significant long-term care alternative to allow individuals to age in place,” where residents “will receive the assistance they need to age in place and develop and maintain maximum independence, exercise decision-making and personal choice.”
Likewise, Chapter 2600 of the 55 Pa. Code defines personal care as “A premise in which food, shelter and personal assistance or supervision are provided for a period exceeding 24 hours, for four or more adults who are not relatives of the operator, who do not require the services in or of a licensed long-term care facility, but who do require assistance or supervision in activities of daily living or instrumental activities of daily living.”
The differences between the two levels of care is broken down into three categories:
Concept – Assisted living residences permit residents to age in place, meaning that even as their health care needs increase, they will not have to relocate to another senior living home to receive that care, such as skilled nursing.
Construction – Assisted living residences must provide residents a private room with a lockable door, a private bathroom and small kitchen. Personal care homes are not required to offer these amenities.
Level of Care – Assisted living residences must ensure that residents receive skilled nursing care if their needs surpass standard assisted living services.
Assisted living is known as extra-care housing or retirement living which allows residents over the age of 55 or 60 to live independently. They are offered a self-contained flat or bungalow and have staff that are available to them 24 hours a day to provide personal care. Staff help with washing, dressing residents, taking medication and they do domestic duties such as shopping and laundry for them, they also prepare and serve meals to residents if provided. Residents are often asked whether to own or rent their properties independently, the average cost ranges from £500 to £1,500 depending on where the resident lives.
Assisted living accommodations would often include a scheme manager or a team of support staff, nurses and care staff onsite, 24-hour emergency alarm systems, communal lounges to socialise with other residents. Assisted living housing is regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
- Aging in place
- Food preferences in older adults and seniors
- Retirement home
- Transgenerational design
- Assistive technology
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