Many people in retirement communities, assisted living have unmet needs, researchers find

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People living in retirement communities have a higher likelihood of unmet needs than those residing in assisted living facilities or their own homes, according to recently published findings.

Among people in assisted living, 42% have an unmet need for help with daily living activities, according to the investigators with the University of Michigan and the Urban Institute. While this may seem high, it does not necessarily mean that assisted living providers are failing to deliver on promised services, according to author Vicki Freedman, Ph.D.

“Unmet needs appear to be higher in assisted living settings because they serve a frailer clientele than other settings,” Freedman wrote in an email to McKnight's. “Once those differences are taken into account, assisted living settings have lower rates of unmet need than traditional community settings for several tasks.”

With the adjustment for frailty, retirement and senior housing communities emerged as the setting where older adults are most likely to have unmet needs. For the study, retirement housing was considered as distinct from independent living communities, and was defined as community housing where meals, medication assistance, personal care and other types of services are not offered.

Those living in traditional housing were the least likely to have an unmet need, the investigators determined.

The increasing options for community-based living might be a positive development for seniors and might also defray costs for government programs, the study authors wrote. However, they argue that there is a need to monitor this trend because of the prevalence of seniors with unmet needs. As only the sickest and frailest enter nursing homes, people who need assistance increasingly could be living in settings that do not offer the necessary services.

The investigators analyzed the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study, which captured data from more than 8,000 Medicare beneficiaries. Full findings appear in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.