Candace Kemp, Ph.D.

Georgia State University Gerontology Institute researchers are in the middle of a five-year, $1.9 million study ultimately aiming to improve the quality of life for assisted living residents and their formal and informal caregivers. Eight Atlanta-area assisted living communities are part of the research.

“Overall, we hope to identify ‘best practices’ and learn how to create collaborative care partnerships that allow residents to age in place and that have a positive influence on the well-being of residents and all those who support them,” Candace Kemp, Ph.D., leader of the National Institute on Aging-funded study, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We hope to offer information and make recommendations that will be useful to residents, their family members, assisted living providers, care staff and healthcare professionals as well as researchers and policymakers.”

Kemp said that through her research, she has noticed an increasing complexity of care arrangements in assisted living, including family involvement and the use of external care providers, over the past decade or so. “Assisted living residents tend to be older and frailer and have more care needs than was previously true, but there was/is almost no research focused on understanding entire care networks or how to support them,” she said.

She joined the Gerontology Institute in 2005 and has collaborated on three NIA-funded studies. The current study, “Convoys of Care: Developing Collaborative Care Partnerships in Assisted Living,” began in 2013 and will end in 2018. Its findings could help reduce healthcare system costs associated with nursing homes by helping assisted living residents stay in the more homelike environments they prefer, according to the researchers.

Kemp and colleagues recently began the second of two waves of data collection, having spent two years in four assisted living/personal care home communities starting in 2013. “We began again this year in four different communities,” she said.

In the first wave, researchers conducted 142 interviews and had at least weekly or bi-monthly contact with 28 residents and their care convoys. In part, they found that assisted living communities play an important role in supporting informal caregivers and their involvement in residents’ lives and care activities. They also found that staff members play a critical role in monitoring changes to resident health, care needs, abilities and preferences.

“Recognizing and supporting staff on an ongoing basis can promote satisfaction and care quality,” they wrote in a summary of the first phase.

Although Kemp cannot divulge the names of any of the assisted living communities participating in the study, sites can reveal themselves. One community that disclosed that it is participating in the second wave of the study is Gardens of Roswell, an Insignia Senior Living community in Alpharetta, GA (pictured).

“Researchers from GSU will be visiting Gardens of Roswell weekly throughout the period of two years and will be speaking informally to family members, friends of residents and staff, as well as attending activities and meals and participating in the daily life of the community,” according to a representative of the community. “Interviews will be conducted on a voluntary basis after GSU has spent some time getting acquainted with the facilities and its members.”

All told, over the course of the research, Kemp and colleagues plan to study 50 residents who are diverse in age, marital and parental statuses, race and ethnicity, and cognitive and physical functioning — as well as 250 informal caregivers and 40 administrators and care staff members.

“Following residents’ ‘care convoys’ prospectively will enhance understandings of care as a dynamic process and shed light on the ways families and friends negotiate amongst themselves and with other convoy members, including paid care workers,” she said in a project description on a website of NIA parent National Institutes of Health. Insights into the care process “will help us identify strategies for developing and supporting collaborative care partnerships between informal and formal caregivers and recipients.”