Revisiting the Role of Behavioral Health Care in Assisted Living Facilities

America’s population is aging. A more significant percentage of people will start relying on care services over the next three decades. Experts expect many of those looking to retire with easy access to support will consider assisted living facilities (ALF).

As both demand and competition amongst ALF providers increase, offering behavioral health services help set communities apart from their competition. It is time for a new approach to assisted living and residential care: combining medical and social components benefits residents and teams. 

Aging At a Glance

Like other highly developed Western societies, the population of the United States is growing older on average. There are over 46 million adults over the age of 65 living in the country. 

This number is expected to grow by nearly 18 million within the next eight years as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age. While that number may seem impressive, looking further ahead makes the trend even more straightforward. 

By 2050, the retirement age population in the United States is projected to grow to almost 90 million. That is almost twice the number of seniors compared to the current population. 

Increased Demand for Assisted Living Facilities

As more Americans reach retirement age and spend more years in retirement, the demand for support will grow. Assisted living facilities can benefit from increased demand for their services. However, competition amongst those offering these services will also increase as the market grows. 

Across the country, there are currently one million beds available in nearly 29,000 ALF communities. Each of those communities provides different services to its residents, including nursing and medical services. 

Some ALF communities offer medication management and help manage chronic diseases. Others also deal with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and end-of-life planning. In many facilities, support includes practical aspects of residents’ lives, such as using technology or other learning opportunities. 

Services offered can vary significantly between individual states due to licensing and regulations. However, they will also vary depending on what level of care a facility can provide. Some focus more on occasional support for seniors who remain relatively independent. Others offer more comprehensive residential care or cover both ends of the spectrum.

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Medical and Social Approaches to Care

When offering ALF residents the best possible care, providers need to cover physical, emotional, and mental health care. Mental health has become a more significant concern over the past two years of the pandemic as many seniors spent substantial amounts of time in isolation. Protecting their physical fitness by limiting outside contact took a toll on their mental well-being. To overcome the consequences of the pandemic within ALF settings, providers need to consider a new approach to mental health care. 

Traditionally, a medical model or approach to health has taken a narrow view of what it means to be healthy. Under this umbrella, to be healthy means to be free of disease. As a result, treating disease is the main activity of medical professionals in this context. Their focus is on biomedical risk factors for an individual’s health.

Social models of health take a much more comprehensive approach. Rather than simply looking at disease, they cast a giant net and consider social, economic, and environmental factors influencing a person’s well-being. 

A medical professional taking this second approach would not only look for signs of disease in a patient or client. They would also examine gender, race, socioeconomic status, and geographic location inequalities. All of those may influence a person’s well-being. Behavioral health care is an integral part of a social health care model. 

Behavioral Health Care in Assisted Living Facilities

Which approach to care should ALF communities take? For most, a combination of medical and social models will work best. 

As residents age, they are likely to develop conditions that need to be managed medically. In practice, that means taking medication as prescribed or monitoring the development of a disease. Nurse practitioners may be able to help with prescriptions and medication management. 

The social or mental health component is equally important to the quality of life of ALF residents. While aging and mental health need not necessarily go hand-in-hand, many older people are affected by mental health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in five Americans over 55 suffers from a mental health condition. 

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How Behavioral Health Services Make a Difference

Installing a comprehensive behavioral health care service is one of the most promising ways of addressing mental health concerns in assisted living. 

Behavioral health care for seniors aims to develop positive habits that support a high quality of life for years to come. These habits may include regular activities, socializing opportunities, and healthy eating patterns. Establishing positive behaviors and turning them into habits can help prevent and manage mental health problems. 

Granted, getting older does not necessarily mean developing mental health problems. But there are some aspects of aging may trigger conditions like anxiety and depression. For example, moving into assisted living is a huge transition for most people. It marks the beginning of the last phase of their lives. In addition, the move also disrupts positive habits. 

Re-establishing these existing habits or developing new habits that are better suited to the new environment is critical. Facilities expecting their residents to manage that transition independently are losing out on a prime opportunity to offer outstanding service. 

Other common triggers for conditions like depression and anxiety include grief and loss or becoming ill and infirm. All of those are closely associated with aging. Services like behavioral health counseling can address the issues before they spiral out of control.

Residents and Facilities Benefit

Offering behavioral health care services in your assisted living community benefits residents. It also makes financial sense. 

It is well documented that assisted living facilities suffer from high resident turnover. Advertising to fill empty beds is expensive for facilities. On the other hand, adding behavioral health care to the range of services offered saves costs. Behavioral health care helps keep residents in assisted living facilities for longer because they enjoy a higher quality of life. 

Enjoying this phase of their lives more is an obvious advantage for residents. Facilities benefit from keeping their community together, allowing residents and staff to establish lasting working relationships. Simply put, both sides win by offering behavioral health care for seniors.

How a Partnership Can Help

Most assisted living facilities are small and medium-sized businesses. For some, it is not practical to hire an entire behavioral health care team for seniors.

Platforms like Behavioral Health Programs for Assisted Living Facilities powered by TrueCare™ are perfectly placed to fill the gap. 

Your facility gains access to fully qualified and licensed medical professionals who can offer comprehensive services. They start by assessing your population’s mental and behavioral health risk level and then suggest personalized care options.

The entire program is Medicare-approved and comes at no cost and no contact to the facility or its residents. 

Moreover, your team gains access to cost-effective and time-efficient training, allowing staff to gain valuable knowledge and skills. Add behavioral health care to your services to help your community grow and enjoy every phase of their lives. 

Learn more about how you can integrate behavioral health services for seniors in your community and keep your residents longer.

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