Independent living best for elderly folks? People who ‘live in place’ may enjoy better overall health

COLUMBIA, Mo. — As people get older, it might get harder to do everyday activities such as cooking or driving. If a person is unable to take care of themselves, they may need to move into a nursing home or assisted-living facility for extra help. However, new research suggests people who live at home (“live in place”) or at an independent living facility may be more likely to live longer and healthier without needing to be transferred to a nursing home.

Most older adults want to live in their homes than go to a nursing facility, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Armed with this information, researchers at the University of Missouri sought to find ways to keep older adults at home without compromising their health and well-being. The team looked at eight years of health data from a senior living facility called TigerPlace that gives support to residents while providing privacy through individual apartments. There is also the opportunity to socialize in different events offered by the facility.

TigerPlace residents — with an average age of 84 — participated in health assessments by registered nurse care coordinated every six months. The exams measured a resident’s ability to complete daily tasks, cognition, depression, physical ability, and risk of falling. The researchers also received data on residents’ activity, respiratory, and heart rate levels through several motion sensors. The team used any abrupt change to the group’s routine or new falls to calculate a person’s risk for illness such as pneumonia.

Living in place leads to fewer falls

Researchers say having the assessments allowed residents to get early intervention and treatment before their condition grew worse. Doing so also allowed residents to be healthier for longer and lower the need for a transfer to a nursing home.

“The benefits of both the regular health assessments and use of non-invasive sensors helped to keep them steady as they age comfortably,” says lead author Lori Popejoy, an associate professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing, in a university release. “The goal is to identify slight declines in health as early as possible so the right services can be put into place, whether it is connecting them with a doctor, beginning therapy or starting treatment to depression, whatever is needed based off the assessments.”

The study finds having the opportunity to exercise and engage in social events with other residents displayed a direct connection to a boost in physical and mental health. The continued physical activity improved muscle mass and strength, leading to fewer falls.

“The residents are able to use these services to enhance their quality of life in retirement, which allows them to live longer independently,” Popejoy concludes. “For older adults that are still living at home and maybe starting to notice increased difficulty completing daily activities, or for those who are struggling with social isolation, moving to a facility like TigerPlace can be very helpful for living a healthier life longer and possibly avoiding the need to ever move to a nursing home.”

The findings appear in the journal Geriatric Nursing.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story suggested that elderly people who “live in place” are healthier than nursing home residents. The post has been corrected to note that people who live at home or at an independent living facility are less likely to require transfer to a nursing facility.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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Comments

  1. The headline of this article is misleading. The referenced study did NOT address whether the elderly do better living at home or in a nursing home. Instead, the study looked at the outcomes of a program, carried out in an assisted living facility, to closely monitor the health of residents. Closely monitoring resident health prevented decline and helped residents avoid the need to transfer to a nursing home. (The common-sense notion that people fare better living independently rather than in a nursing home was the impetus for the study, not its conclusion.)

    I hope that you will change the headline of this article to more accurately reflect its content. News reporting that mischaracterizes or oversimplifies the results of a healthcare study can have real life consequences.

    Thank you for your attention to this matter.

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