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Older adults living with dementia who move into memory care units in assisted living communities are less likely to experience a skilled nursing facility or a hospital stay than their peers who move into a general assisted living setting, a national study has found.

Investigators analyzed data from Medicare beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias living in large assisted living communities. Within 180 days of admission to assisted living, memory care residents were much less likely to be transferred to a nursing home, especially for long-term stays of 90 days or more. The odds of acute-care transfers were also slightly reduced.

The results suggest that memory care may be best equipped to handle the needs of residents with dementia when compared with the general assisted living setting, wrote study lead Portia Cornell, Ph.D., of Brown University. Memory care operations may offer relatively high staffing levels, more advanced staff training and supervision, and thoughtful building design to accommodate residents who experience disorientation or who are prone to wandering, she and her colleagues theorized. 

The overall effect of these care advantages is to help slow the progression of dementia symptoms that can result in the need for long-term skilled nursing care and help prevent acute events that lead to hospitalization, the researchers added.

In addition, memory care screening procedures may prompt operators to have more sufficient care plans in place, they wrote. A finely tailored screening process also may result in denied admissions to the unit when it is determined that symptoms cannot be managed safely by the staff. This, in turn, may reduce the number of residents who inevitably would require another level of care, such as a long nursing home stay, Cornell and colleagues noted.

Within the assisted living setting, the study results “support the notion that memory care communities are better able to cope with behaviors associated with dementia and support the well-being of their residents,” they concluded.

Full findings were published online Jan. 3 in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia. Veteran long-term care policy expert David Grawbowski, Ph.D., of Harvard, also contributed to the study.