The coronavirus pandemic presented the health care sector with countless challenges. If there were one blessing in disguise brought about by the COVID-19, it would be that the virus triggered an open discussion of behavioral health and mental health issues. As people of all ages were struggling to deal with the sudden changes and prolonged uncertainty caused by government restrictions and health scares, older people suffered more than others.
Residents in assisted living facilities (ALF) and nursing homes were most vulnerable and susceptible to severe disease. Most facilities limit or cancel any contact with outside visitors for several months to keep older people safe. The lack of communication may have kept residents physically secure, but it impacted their mental and behavioral health.
Behavioral health is ALF had not been a new concern. Several pre-pandemic studies had pointed to the challenges for residents and staff. As the pandemic becomes more manageable, this is a critical time for facilities to prioritize behavioral health for the overall well-being of their population.
Apart from the obvious health care benefits, providing a comprehensive behavioral health care program also makes good business sense. In a market that is becoming more crowded, these personalized services will set your facility apart and help it stand out from competitors. You will not only attract new residents but also retain your existing clients.
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Senior Mental Health Concerns
Up until 60 years ago, senior mental health in the United States was primarily dealt with in large-scale psychiatric hospitals. Since mental health care was deinstitutionalized, assisted living facilities have become one of the places to care for seniors with mental health concerns.
It would be easy to think that mental or behavioral illnesses are another aspect of aging, but this is not the case. However, aging presents individuals with challenges that may become triggers for mental health concerns.
Triggers for Mental Health Concerns
Common triggers for mental health concerns among seniors include physical and behavioral factors, including:
- Health concerns, such as an increased number of illnesses or chronic diseases
- Side effects from medications taken to address declining health
- Grief through the loss of key family members and friends
- Loss of purpose and secure income upon retirement
- Lack of routine and social contacts
- Fear of aging and frailty
- Big life changes
Common Mental Health Problems in Assisted Living Facilities
Anxiety, depression, and cognitive disorders are among assisted living residents’ most common mental health concerns.
While it is normal to feel nervous and anxious from time to time, when the feelings persist, they can become debilitating. A bad mood for a day or two after receiving bad news is every day, but it becomes a sign of a more severe condition when a low mood continues. At this point, anxiety is the most common mental health disorder among assisted living residents, and it often goes undiagnosed.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Anxiety disorders most commonly diagnosed in seniors are GAD, followed by phobias and panic. In most adults, GAD causes racing thoughts or feelings of hopelessness. They often cannot stop worrying. Many older adults struggle to sleep and find it hard to concentrate.
Residents in ALF communities struggling with anxiety may also experience physical symptoms. Those symptoms include nausea, tiredness, and feelings of breathlessness.
Spotting Anxiety in Seniors
Since mental health care was deinstitutionalized in the 1960s, the medical profession’s approach to treating mental health concerns has changed dramatically. However, spotting the onset of a disorder is not always easy.
Symptoms often develop slowly. They may be caused by one specific trigger or an accumulation of environmental and other factors that push a person too far.
Assisted living facilities and their teams can help prevent anxiety and other mental illnesses from becoming life-changing issues with the proper training and skills. Adding a comprehensive behavioral health program to a community’s range of services can make an incredible difference to its residents.
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Why Behavioral Health Care is Good Business
In the United States, approximately 800,000 seniors are currently residing in assisted living facilities. They spread across nearly 29,000 communities with almost one million licensed beds. More than 40% of those communities are located in the country’s west.
With beds and apartments left empty, communities have started advertising to attract new residents. However, recent sales have been both time-consuming and cost-intensive. Retaining existing residents is a better, more economical alternative.
Assisted living facilities have suffered from a high turnover of residents for more than a decade. Some lose nearly 50% of their population every year. Filling those beds or apartments takes up staff time and effort that could be better devoted to caring activities.
How Behavioral Health Care Can Help
One of the main reasons ALF residents leave a facility is a lack of care for their specific needs. When it comes to addressing mental health concerns, a behavioral health program tailored for seniors not only alleviates those concerns. It also sets your facility apart from others.
A comprehensive behavioral health program directly addresses several triggers for mental health concerns. Among those aspects of such a program are:
- Transition support
- Preventing illness
- Encouraging social contact
Transitioning from fully independent living to a caring environment creates a dramatic change in a person’s life. Even if an older person remains healthy and relatively autonomous, moving to an ALF residence marks the start of the last phase of their life.
Having professional support to manage this change and develop positive habits in the new environment sets the tone for a long-term, successful residency.
As we age, our bodies become more susceptible to injuries and illnesses. Behavioral health care helps develop habits that can prevent diseases or manage existing ones. Eating regularly and mainly making healthy choices is one of those habits.
Regular exercise is equally essential for enjoying the highest quality of life. Assisted living communities are ideally set up to support and encourage residents to develop or continue with these habits. Low impact exercise classes or community-organized walks are two examples of potential exercise options.
Encouraging Social Contact
Limited social contact quickly leads to loneliness and isolation. A lack of communication is one of the biggest triggers of mental health problems in older people.
While the pandemic forced limiting contacts, assisted living facilities now need to do their best to help residents rebuild connections.
How to Deliver a High-Impact Behavioral Health Program
Adding a behavioral health program to your assisted living facility’s offering is an excellent way of improving residents’ mental health. At the same time, the program encourages long-term residencies and minimizes resident turnover.
Leading behavioral health programs are delivered by a team usually managed by a nurse practitioner with specialist mental health qualifications. Not every ALF may be able to hire their in-house staff, and there is a better alternative.
Teaming up with a proven partner like TrueCare™ gives your facility access to the knowledge, skills, and qualified personnel you need. Our team will become an extension of your team when you need it, starting from a thorough assessment of your residents to tailoring individual suggestions.
In addition, we can give your staff the skills they need to deliver unparalleled behavioral health care to your residents. You will see the turnover of both staff and residents diminish, and your facility will thrive.