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Wellness is assisted living’s prescription for keeping residents healthy

Wellness is assisted living’s prescription for keeping residents healthy

When comparing residents of nursing homes and assisted living, the similarities can be somewhat expected.

The average nursing home resident is around 85. The average assisted living resident is a bit older – 87. Both “typical” residents are afflicted with three or more chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. Both may also have conditions like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, depression, arthritis, osteoporosis, COPD or cancer.

Assisted living communities tend to have fewer men than women. 70.6% of residents are women, and 29.4% are men, according to a recent government report.

Approximately 30% of nursing home residents will recuperate and move back into their communities, and another 10% will exit for other reasons, according to Elder Needs Law PLLC. Many find themselves in a skilled nursing facility after hospitalization for a stroke, hip injury, or other devastating event.

Many assisted living residents are there on their own volition, seeking a relatively comfortable life of retirement while needing a little help with activities of daily living. The biggest one is bathing, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Others include dressing and toileting, transferring, and eating. About 80% of them also need help with food preparation and managing medication, according to reports by the National Center for Assisted Living.

About 15% of assisted living residents had emergency department visits last year, and about 8% had overnight hospital stays. About 30% of nursing home residents, by comparison, are hospitalized each year.

Why the big difference?

The ‘wellness’ part of living well

It’s difficult to find anyone to say the words, but nursing home caregivers will acknowledge they are occupied intensely with keeping residents from getting sicker than they are. Great efforts are expended in ensuring incontinence problems and pressure sores don’t get worse, for instance.

Assisted living caregivers, meanwhile, have occupied themselves with helping otherwise healthy residents maintain the good health they came in with, or even get healthier.

Of course, many assisted living operators have a lot more with which to work. Updated statistics show that seniors today are generally a healthier demographic than previous generations.

Evidence shows many assisted living operators are working hard to keep them that way with the help of brisk technological innovation and what has become a $3.7 trillion wellness and fitness industry.

According to Assisted Living Facilities, typical health and wellness programs today include things like:

  • Aquatic therapy with pools, saunas, and whirlpools
  • Therapy programs fitness, rehabilitation and weight training
  • Senior health and nutrition classes
  • On-site physician services
  • Meditation gardens and walking trails
  • Recreation and sport courts

“Wellness has been a buzzword in senior living for some time, and new survey numbers showcase that it is replacing ‘care’ as the driving concept for community operations,” Tim Mullaney writes in a recent issue of Senior Housing News.

A recent survey by the International Council on Active Aging found that about two-thirds of independent living, memory care and assisted living communities reported their plans will be based on a wellness lifestyle with options for care, or based in care with wellness offerings, in the next three years.

The ICAA survey determined those plans will include one or more of the following:

  • Education and lifelong learning
  • Exercise (both instructor and technology-led)
  • Health education and disease management
  • Food and nutrition education and preparation
  • Intergenerational programs linking youth and older adults

Tech to the rescue

More and more experts, both inside and outside of the assisted living industry, are seeing the ubiquitous Internet of Things as a perfect complement to meditation and aquatic therapy, fitness programs, nutrition counseling and recreation.

It’s become so advanced and so sudden, things like the ubiquitous and wildly popular “Wii” gaming consoles are beginning to look “old school” and seniors themselves could not be more willing partners. Their families are co-conspirators, as AARP recently discovered surveying its members. AARP found that 67 percent of family caregivers want to use technology to monitor their loved one’s health and safety in assisted living.

Mike MacLeod, founder and self-proclaimed lead strategist of Status Solutions, explained it this way in a recent article in McKnight’s Senior Living.

“Whether you’re 65 or 85, if you’re alive, you still matter. If you look at what I do, I try to figure out how to harness all this good technology from networks, devices, databases, etc., and deliver better tools to better manage people and stuff. Looking around at all the medication carts, the drugs in those carts, the people pushing them and the primary person, the resident, and their whole circle of influence from family and friends to caregivers and merchants, we’re constantly obsessing over how to make their lives better with technology.”

AARP has identified the most promising new health and wellness-related technologies, products and services in nine areas:

  • Physical fitness
  • New care delivery
  • Smart aging
  • Care guidance
  • Safe living
  • Social engagement
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Behavioral health
  • Medication management

AARP also recently explored technology-driven wellness market segments in its Caregiving Innovation Frontiers report.

Here’s a quick look at some of the major tech and devices fueling the wellness boom in assisted living:

  • Wearables: One of the fastest growing segments of all, devices like fitness and vital signs trackers use sensors that collect, analyze, alert and upload biometric data on everything from weight and pulse to respiratory function and atrial fibrillation. IHS Technology has predicted the market will grow sevenfold in 2019 alone.
  • Smartphones, tablets and the apps that drive them: The list of apps monitoring everything from hearing, vision and blood pressure is nearly endless.
  • Sensors: Experts believe the devices, which can be embedded in clothing, walls and even bedding, can measure vitals like heart and respiratory rates and restlessness, help prevent costly and needless treatments for seniors with chronic diseases and even predict impending heart failure.
  • Smart devices and smart homes: Smart scales that upload weight and other bodily vitals are one example. Experts claim they can enable real-time assessment and interventions for retirement community residents and other older adults. So-called “granny pods,” or “tiny houses,” are still being sold and marketed for healthy seniors, equipped with such amenities as defibrillators, interactive video, bed- and bathroom seat lifts, physician-connected sensors that monitor vital signs and glucose levels, toilet seats that record and upload weight and body temperature, medication reminder systems – even floor-level cameras that record and alert falls.
  • Voice activation and artificial intelligence: Devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home allow seniors to use their voice to control things like light and home alarms, and summon help in an emergency. New applications for the devices are being developed every day.
  • Connectedness: There is a burgeoning market of developers dedicated to the concept of engaging and connecting seniors with family and the outside world using software, device cameras and other tech. Numerous studies show evidence that connectedness can actually maintain and even improve overall well-being in seniors.
  • Virtual reality, or VR: Developers are exploring to offer therapeutic applications around disease prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, macular degeneration and more.

With all of the advances in technology over the past decade, especially in the wellness sector, seniors have the opportunity to take ownership of their health in ways never experienced before. Caregivers can also take advantage of these new tools in order to relieve some of the stressors that come with taking care of their loved ones. ValueMed and PharMerica will continue to provide assistance whenever we can to provide awareness and knowledge around topics like these as we continue on our path to greater wellness for our partners.

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