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The Nursing Home Paradox

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenJune 28, 2012
Nursing Home Paradox

Why did 33% of visitors looking for nursing homes eventually move into active senior living communities?

Many children of aging parents reach a point where they’re faced with finding the next level of care for their mother or father. Whether this decision comes unexpectedly or as a gradual inevitability, the difficult, exhausting search for the just right “nursing home” begins.

But is that the right search? According to A Place for Mom’s analysis of visitor search patterns,  in an overwhelming majority of cases, a nursing home is not the answer. The very phrase “nursing home” can send the offspring of seniors on a “wild goose chase” for the wrong type of facility altogether.

Disconnect Between Public Perception and Senior Needs

Out of 100 families searching for a nursing home online for themselves or for their loved ones, only 21 ended up in actual nursing homes. 59% of searchers found some type of active senior living community: 34 went to assisted living, 13 to residential care home, 5 went to home care and 7 to independent living apartments or retirement communities. The rest found other suitable alternatives: 3 to short-term respite care, and 17 to Alzheimer’s care. Clearly, there’s a huge language barrier when it comes to determining the right placement for the elderly.

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What are the roots of the disconnect between searcher intent and outcomes? More options, new vocabulary and increased complexity have added to the gulf between the searchers and their final senior care decisions. The growth of the senior housing industry, which expanded the number of senior care options from less than 5 to more than 15, has driven a lot of the consumer confusion. The senior housing industry has changed dramatically from 30 years ago, when seniors who no longer desired to live alone would choose between moving in with family members or selecting a “nursing home” or a “retirement community.” Today seniors who move into nursing homes or “skilled nursing facilities” have a serious medical condition that requires 24-hour care. The phrase “nursing home” is no longer a catch all term for senior housing.

Adult Children of Seniors Incorrectly Assess Level of Care

Not only has the senior housing lexicon changed, but 98% of the senior care searches are initiated by the adult children of seniors and they frequently underestimate or overestimate the level of care needed.  In some cases, a senior who appears to need memory care or assisted living, may in fact thrive in a lower cost independent living senior community with better structure, good nutrition, physical activity and new medication. When faced with making a housing decision for their aging parents, many adult children have trouble recognizing their parent’s current needs and make decisions based on the parent they knew 20 years ago. How easily the next generation of Americans 65+ and their adult children figure out where to spend the rest of their lives depends on how quickly they can decipher the jargon and countless variables that go into determining just the right placement.

Understanding the Options

Types of long-term senior care:

  • Independent Living, Senior Apartments or Retirement Communities
    Residential living setting for senior adults that may or may not provide hospitality or supportive services
  • Congregate Housing
    Similar to independent living except that it usually provides convenience or supportive services like meals, housekeeping, and transportation in addition to rental housing.
  • Assisted Living Facilities
    For seniors who require assistance with two or more activities of daily living.
  • Skilled Nursing or Nursing Homes
    For seniors who need medical care for chronic conditions or short-term convalescent or rehabilitative care.
  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities
    A community that offers several levels of assistance, including independent living, assisted living and nursing home care.
  • Alzheimer’s, Dementia or Memory Care
    Often housed in a special wing with additional security, cuing devices and other specific architectural features these areas are state licensed and provide programming specific to the population being served.

Because of  the complexity of options and the influx of aging baby boomers, the need for elder care industry experts is growing fast. The nation’s 65+ demographic, which currently accounts for 13% of the overall population, is expected to more than double by 2050 to more than 89 million (and 20% of the population), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A Place for Mom’s experienced and informed Senior Living Advisors help families navigate the growing complexity of the care industry. They take into account an individuals’ emotional, physical and financial health and help a family arrive at the best care options available. Senior Living Advisors look at what seniors need now, as well as down the line.

Dana Larsen
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Dana Larsen

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