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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Senior Facilities Set for Changes

Senior Facilities Set for Changes By JACQUELINE FOX Staff Reporter Addressing a rapidly growing aging population and preparing for the large number of baby boomers poised to stampede into retirement over the next five to 10 years, present significant challenges for the Valley’s assisted living facilities. Advances in medical technology have boosted the average lifespan of seniors to well above 80. In fact, seniors 85 and over comprise the fastest growing sector of the nation’s elderly population. But the longer seniors live, the more prone they become to serious health issues, particularly neurological disorders. As such, more and more senior living facilities are adding dementia treatment units to care for patients with memory-impacted ailments, namely Alzheimer’s disease. “The huge issue we have facing us is Alzheimer’s,” said Lori Solomon, co-founder of Accent On Seniors, an Encino-based senior living placement referral service. According to Solomon, roughly 1.2 million California seniors 65 and over have some form of Alzheimer’s; 50 percent of those seniors 80 and older. In addition, most Alzheimer’s patients tend to live another 15 to 20 years after they are diagnosed, which means they demand long-term specialty care. Fortunately, new laws and regulations over the last decade have made it easier for assisted living facilities to offer dementia care services, even for the most extreme cases, where as in years past, patients with high- or end-stages of dementia were usually transferred to specialty facilities or sent home to live with family members or in-home care workers. “We are beginning to see more and more licensed facilities providing dementia care or adding dementia care units because of the extension of life,” said Ben Partington, senior care program administrator with the state Department of Social Services/Community Care Licensing division, which oversees permits for California’s roughly 6,300 licensed senior care facilities. There are roughly 1,267 licensed assisted living facilities in Los Angeles County. The agency does not break out specifics for the Valley. “Over the last 10 years assisted living administrators are setting aside places for those patients and there is a real trend in hiring workers who specialize in caring for them,” Partington said. “But because we have been able to implement new regulations to lift some of the restrictions for caring for dementia patients, we’re able to meet those demands. But those demands are on the rise.” Keeping busy On the other side of the coin, seniors are more active at 70, 80 or even 100 years of age than their counterparts of just a decade or two ago. That means it’s no longer enough to provide a room, food and medical care to keep them or their family members healthy, both physically and spiritually. The senior of today wants and often demands that, if they are going to leave their homes and go into a senior retirement setting, they expect to find activities and programs geared around their interests. That goes for the country club-style facilities as well as the smaller facilities with just 20 or 30 beds. Ditto for those boomers about to impact the market: Solomon predicts that, due to the large number of baby boomers heading into retirement, the number of seniors in the country 65 and over will jump to 40 million by 2010, 80 million by 2030. And remember, these are the seniors who spent the bulk of their 30s and 40s, not settling into old age, but tossing in aerobics classes, kick boxing and other physical fitness programs into their hectic schedules. Provided they are healthy, and predictions are they will be, golf, TV and arts and crafts simply won’t cut it for a large bulk of tomorrow’s assisted living facility consumers. ‘Young’ seniors “I would say that one of the biggest challenges we have before us is what I would call the young seniors coming into the market in the next decade, or those 65 to 75,” said Molly Forrest, CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging and the Business Journal’s Health Care Leadership Award honoree for assisted living facility administrator. “For consumers to chose to give up their homes and go elsewhere, they’ll want security and safety with their needs being met, and that includes building an environment that stimulates their brain and their spirit.” The Jewish Home, is the Valley’s largest senior living facility, with roughly 800 beds and some 700 employees. “It’s about entertainment, yes,” said Forrest. “But it’s also about expanding their universe with programs that feed their spirit. They say that depression is caused by old age. But that’s just not true. It comes when we fail to give the support for those life losses that come with age, such as not being able to drive a car or take trips.” The Valley’s larger, country club-style facilities, such as Sunrise Assisted Living, are far outnumbered by the area’s smaller facilities with as few as 20 to 30 beds. And, according to Solomon, those smaller facilities are not being outdone by the large senior complexes, because in her view and others in the industry, quality is measured, not by size or amenities, but by the care itself. “I would say the San Fernando Valley is able to meet the needs of all seniors, with plenty of choices,” said Solomon. “And that ranges from the most opulent to the many smaller, more modest facilities we have here. And, despite the bells and whistles that the big chains can provide, it’s really the caregivers themselves that make a facility standout.”

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