Assisted living facilities may not be a good option for some elders as they age.  Rather, the assisted living model is geared more towards elders who can live relatively independently, or, for some, may just be one stop along the continuum of care. A recent New York Times article, “How Not to Grow Old in America,” written by Berkeley professor, Geeta Anand, addresses the common misconception that assisted livings can properly sustain both our loved ones and ourselves as we age.  Realistically, many elders will require assistance that surpasses the level of care a typical assisted living facility can provide.  So why then are assisted livings growing in rapid numbers as the most sought-after option for those in the latter part of their lives?  As Anand explains, the assisted living industry is marketing themselves to appeal to the concepts of independence and self-reliance, which are at the core of American values.  It is easy to get lost in the concept of “old-age nirvana” which the industry promotes but it is important to remember that the majority of assisted living centers are designed for people who are mostly independent.  However, for those who live in assisted livings, often times bringing in outside care to supplement the care the facility provides is an option which can prolong one’s stay in the assisted living facility.

Over the last 20 years, the number of assisted living facilities has tripled to around 30,000.  As a result, investors have seen returns higher than many other industries at around 15 percent annually over the past five years.  What does this information tell us?  That there is a financial interest to be had in aging independently in an assisted living facility.  However, assisted livings may not be a viable option for everyone.  For example, many assisted living centers are not a good option for older adults with dementia. Anand believes that a better option for elders who need more than minimal care may be a nursing home.  While these facilities do not have the same curb appeal as assisted living facilities, and many elders fear a loss of independence, Anand suggests that nursing homes provide a much more appropriate and safer level of care. Unlike assisted livings which have no federal and limited state regulation, nursing homes are inspected, regulated, and regularly graded on quality by the federal government to ensure that they are providing their residents with the best possible care.  While there may be no “old-age nirvana,” there should be better consideration of the options and perhaps also some improvements to the assisted living model of care. Advocating for reform that will require higher staffing levels and better training for assisted living staff, and learning from the models of other countries may make assisted livings better-suited to care for some elders who currently may not be a good fit for the care model.  As the elder care industry continues to grow, elders and their families need to plan ahead thoughtfully, and enter into the process with their eyes wide open and with good information about all the options.

Please contact any of the attorneys in Pabian & Russell, LLC’s Elder Law practice group if you would like to discuss these issues in more detail.