NIC/NORC Study: Seniors Become Less Frail After Living in Seniors Housing

by Jeff Shaw

CHICAGO and ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Older adults have heightened vulnerability to illness and impaired mobility prior to, and just after, entering a seniors housing and care property, new research shows, but frailty levels then quickly plateau and ultimately decline.

The research was conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, funded through a grant from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), an Annapolis-based data firm serving the seniors housing industry.

In a review of Medicare claims of residents from 14,201 senior living properties and using a frailty index developed by researchers at Harvard University, residents were found to experience a 10 percent decline in relative frailty levels one year after moving in, as compared to peak. The findings can help seniors housing advocates better understand and respond to older adults’ health needs.

“Non-medical care and services like socialization, transportation, exercise, balanced nutrition, medication management and others have a positive impact on a resident’s health,” says Dianne Munevar, lead researcher at NORC. “The measured decrease in vulnerability once older adults settle into seniors housing suggests a tremendous opportunity for the industry to work with payers and other intermediaries to direct care into seniors housing properties in a way that is beneficial to beneficiaries and residents.”

NORC used the Harvard Claims-Based Frailty Index to assess older adults’ vulnerability to adverse health outcomes as measured by their rate of chronic conditions, acute conditions, and health services utilization. Residents with the greatest level of need and vulnerability tend to live in properties that offer the most intensive support services.

“Seniors housing and care operators must continually assess residents to mitigate risk and improve health, because even older adults who are relatively healthy could be just one incident away from needing higher levels of care,” says Ryan Brooks, senior principal at NIC. “Understanding the vulnerability of residents helps indicate where frailty management is needed to avoid injury and more intensive support.”

Experts say that while frailty can be a proxy to determine an older adult’s functional status, vulnerability of older adults is an important concept in seniors housing research because it suggests a temporary state of being that can be corrected with the proper interventions.

“Showing that vulnerability levels off and then declines after entering senior living is an important finding, especially for seniors housing operators and residents,” says Raymond Braun, president and CEO at NIC. “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 supports is critical for residents’ improved health and safety.”

The study is the first part of a four-part project supported by NIC to assess the health and well-being of seniors housing and care residents. Subsequent studies will provide insights on access to health care providers, longevity and health outcomes of residents in senior living settings.

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