Operators often extol the benefits older adults gain by moving in a senior living community — now, new research shows that doing so has a clear positive effect on how vulnerable they are.
That’s according to a new study undertaken by NORC at the University of Chicago (NORC) through a grant provided by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care (NIC). The study is an analysis of more than 14,200 Medicare claims using a metric first developed by researchers at Harvard University and known as the Harvard Claims-Based Frailty Index. NORC also examined more than 495,000 Medicare beneficiaries to define the broader frailty population.
Overall, the study found that while resident frailty increased shortly after moving into a community as residents get settled,vulnerability to adverse health outcomes “levels off/decreases” three months after moving in.
Although many operators likely have some anecdotal evidence to back up the study’s results, the new research clearly demonstrates with data that senior living communities can indeed help keep residents from being vulnerable over time, NIC Senior Principal Ryan Brooks noted.
“The findings from this research are foundational and set the table for subsequent studies to examine the impacts of access to healthcare providers, the role senior housing and care plays in resident longevity, and how health outcomes for older adults differ from congregate to non-congregate settings,” Brooks wrote in a Sept. 26 update.
Almost 42% of residents residing within NIC MAP Vision’s primary and secondary markets are mildly or severely frail. But residents in the study experienced a 10% decrease in “relative frailty levels” one year after moving in after s .
Three-quarters of residents in senior living properties within NIC MAP Vision’s primary and secondary markets are vulnerable to “adverse health outcomes.” That shows that the industry must innovate to help residents transition into their new homes, the study’s researchers noted. The ratio of increasingly vulnerable residents jumps when moving up the care continuum.
The study connects frailty to an older adult’s condition while at a senior living community, with the community serving as a safe space where a resident’s functionality and vulnerability can be improved with necessary care interventions. After four weeks post-move-in, residents’ vulnerability levels plateau before decreasing over the course of their first year living in a given community.
“For residents, it suggests that this kind of housing can help restore a measure of vitality and independence. For operators, it indicates that investing in non-medical support is critical for residents’ improved health and safety,” NIC President and CEO Ray Braun said in the release.
It also lends evidence to the notion that vulnerability is not a “permanent condition, but rather a temporary state of being that can be corrected with the proper interventions,” Brooks wrote.
The decrease in vulnerability shows “tremendous opportunity” for senior living providers to improve care going forward, Dianne Munevar, lead researcher at NORC..
“The measured decrease in vulnerability once older adults settle into senior housing suggests a tremendous opportunity for the industry to work with payers and other intermediaries to direct care into senior housing properties in a way that is beneficial to beneficiaries and residents,” Munevar said in the release.
The new research comes as the average assisted living resident manages more than 14 chronic health conditions, which has forced senior living providers to “get real” regarding the definition of care within the continuum. This also follows longitudinal research in the senior living industry that shows the benefits of living within a life plan community.
The study is the first in a four-part installment supported by NIC to broach the health and well-being of senior living residents. Later studies will give clues on the access to health care providers, longevity and health outcomes.