Why Should Assisted Living Facilities Put Behavioral Health First?

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a considerable toll on the physical health of Americans of all ages. One part of the population has been affected especially strongly – those living in aged care facilities.

The past two years have brought the importance of mental and behavioral health to the forefront of the public conversation. A new approach can help professional carers to ensure a high quality of life for their charges.

Mental Health and Behavioral Health

Although professionals often use these terms interchangeably, there is a distinction between them. As the name suggests, behavioral health relates to a person’s daily habits and how they affect their well-being, including biology, emotions, and behavior. Someone with good behavioral health acts in a way that helps them achieve physical and mental balance.

Cultivating good behavioral health means developing habits that prevent disease or manage an existing disease or injury. It includes healthy eating and regular exercise, among other elements.

On the other hand, mental health looks beyond behavior at a person’s state of mind. Behaviors strongly influence this, but mental health also considers biological factors and an individual’s environment.

The Problem in Numbers

According to pre-pandemic statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD), one in five Americans of 55 years and older experience mental health problems. These numbers have only increased over the past years.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) reported that a third of Americans were displaying signs of clinical anxiety or depression at the beginning of the pandemic. Fear, isolation, and continued uncertainty were cited as some of the main reasons behind this development.

Addressing the Need for Mental Health Services in Senior Living Communities

Every year, residents of the assisted living facilities experience increasing rates of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. A quality behavioral health programs can help. Watch webinar

Signs of Deteriorating Behavioral Health

Behavioral health and mental health are closely intertwined but not identical. Poor behavioral health can lead to mental health problems. In addition, spotting detrimental behaviors can help professionals understand if someone is in danger of developing a mental illness.

Not all behavioral health issues seem like major problems at first. Inefficient sleep or poor hygiene are among the first warning signs. Social isolation and disordered eating have also been associated with behaviors that may lead to mental health conditions.

The Importance of Behavioral Health in Assisted Living Facilities

During the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, residents of aged care facilities were some of the hardest-hit people. As scientists and doctors raced to understand how the virus spread and who was most at risk, visits to aged care facilities became limited.

Lockdowns and social distancing caused the cancellation of family visits and limited other social contacts. While much of the rest of the population adapted quickly and started using video conferencing facilities, not all seniors could do that.

As a result, many living in aged care homes missed out on family celebrations and other social contacts. Pictures showing conversations through glass windows and hugs through plastic barriers went worldwide.

Naturally, the rationale between limiting visits and social contacts was to protect older people as they appeared to be more severely affected by the virus. However, it is hard to overestimate the detrimental effect of this type of isolation on behavioral and mental health.

There were some residents who weren’t coming out of their rooms and didn’t want to engage with anyone… that has really changed since offering this program — they are more apt to talk now and be around other people — they are really starting to come out of their shell and are really happy with the service.

Renee Najarro, Director of Resident Care. The Ivy of McKinney

A Solution for the Post-Pandemic Future

As America is emerging from the latest pandemic wave, so is a new type of best practice to address behavioral health issues.

The AHA has stated that the most successful way of dealing with the problem is integrating physical and behavioral health care. By taking this approach, physicians and carers can break down barriers and treat the whole person.

Behavioral health becomes one aspect of the person’s overall health. Rather than being treated as an afterthought, it is part of a holistic, integrated process.

Making this Approach Work in Assisted Living Facilities

The AHA has acknowledged that seniors were at a higher risk from behavioral health problems even before the pandemic started. Social isolation, illness, financial concerns, grief, and loss were all factors in developing depression and anxiety. A shortage of medical and psychiatric professionals specializing in geriatric care exacerbates the problem.

Although the pandemic has left older people particularly vulnerable, there are tools available to carers and assisted living facilities to help their residents. TrueCare™ has developed a targeted program to help seniors and the professionals looking after them overcome behavioral health challenges.

Behavioral Health Programs from TrueCare™ offers a comprehensive, in-person, medicare accepted solution—building an environment where residents can grow stronger emotionally and help build a healthier community.

About TrueCare™

TrueCare™ is a nationwide Health & Wellness platform for families and businesses providing end-to-end solutions for COVID-19 testing, screening, vaccination, home care, and corporate well-being services.