Services provided in seniors housing communities help residents avoid hospitalization over time, according to the results of a study published in the October issue of the journal The Gerontologist.

“Our findings suggest that the positive effects from the various support services available in the senior housing environment accrue over time in helping vulnerable elders better manage their health conditions,” Sojung Park, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

For the paper titled “The Role of Senior Housing in Hospitalizations Among Vulnerable Older Adults With Multiple Chronic Conditions: A Longitudinal Perspective,” Park and colleagues analyzed data from the 2002-2012 Health Retirement Study. In that study, senior housing residents were identified with the question: “Is your home part of a retirement community, senior citizens’ housing or other type of housing that offers services for older adults or someone with a disability?”

The investigators found that, at the beginning of the study, older adults with moderate or low incomes who lived alone and had multiple chronic conditions were more likely to be hospitalized at both moderate and heavy levels. Residents of seniors housing with those conditions had fewer hospitalizations over time, however.

“It might be that the services provided in senior housing, such as health education, help people identify warning signs and seek treatment sooner, leading to more healthcare use,” Park said. “Our findings really underscore the importance of continued research into these housing environments as a possible alternative to existing housing for lower-income seniors.”

Some studies in this area already are underway or have been completed. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for instance, is conducting a three-year, $15 million, 40-site project that is testing the ability of an enhanced supportive services model to help elderly residents of affordable housing properties age in place and stay out of emergency departments, hospitals and nursing homes continues to move forward.

Hebrew SeniorLife also is testing a model of housing with supportive services that it suspects could improve quality of life and reduce medical costs for older adults living in affordable housing and potentially save the healthcare system billions of dollars every year if rolled out nationally.

Previous research from the Center for Outcomes Research and Education and Enterprise Community Partners found that pairing affordable housing and healthcare services significantly improved access to primary care and cuts emergency department visits while also lowering Medicaid costs.

An earlier study by LeadingAge and the Lewin Group found that the availability of an on-site service coordinator, such as a social worker, at federally subsidized seniors housing reduced hospital admissions among residents by 18%.

And a study at affordable housing properties operated by Lutheran Senior Services found that use of an on-site telehealth kiosk and weekly nurse consultations cut resident hospitalizations by one-third, reduced resident moves to higher levels of care by 11% and decreased resident turnover by 6%.

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