Report: Caregiver Support Can Lower the Risk of a Prolonged Nursing Home Stay – Home Health Care News

For the majority of seniors living alone, recovering from an acute illness at home is preferable to doing so in a long-term care facility.

That’s according to a recent study by researchers at UC San Francisco. The study examined data from 4,772 adults who were part of the Health and Retirement Study, which tracked health changes in those transitioning from working to retirement.

UC San Francisco researchers looked to see if seniors with identifiable support were less vulnerable to health shock, meaning hospitalization, a new diagnosis of cancer, stroke or heart attack. The researchers focused on seniors who were 65 and older, lived alone and were responsible for managing their activities of daily living.

Broadly, seniors who live alone are more likely to experience negative health outcomes.

“Older adults who live alone are an at-risk population,” the authors wrote in the study. “Studies have found that living alone is predictive of a wide range of poor health outcomes. From poor outcomes following cardiovascular events to increased depressive symptoms to higher rates of all-cause mortality, living alone is an indicator of risk.”

Indeed, 63% of seniors who lived alone experienced a health shock.

Overall, researchers found that seniors who had a friend or relative that could aid them with personal care, in cases where they were hospitalized or received a new diagnosis of a life-threatening condition, were less likely to need institutional care.

In fact, having the necessary support lowered the risk of a prolonged nursing home stay over a two-year period from 14.2% to 10.9%, according to the study.

Despite the positive impact of care support, about 38% of seniors living alone do not have a friend or relative that would be able to help them in the event of a serious health issue.

While many seniors have the ability to live alone and take care of themselves, this changes when they experience a serious health issue, according to Dr. Kenneth Covinsky, a clinician-researcher in the UCSF division of geriatrics and one of the study’s authors.

“They may have been able to walk without help, shower, dress, and manage their medications, but after a health shock, they can no longer do so,” he said in a press statement.

Over the years, seniors have been vocal about their preference for aging-in-place. The study reinforces the idea that this is possible with the right ongoing care support.

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The study’s findings also indirectly point to the importance of home-based care providers, and the role caregivers play in lowering hospital readmission and improving overall health outcomes.

UC San Francisco researchers call for more cities to roll out programs that would match seniors who need support in their homes with professional caregivers. The researchers also point to the merits of programs and policies that support informal caregivers.

“Programs that support informal caregivers may benefit older adults and insurers and acknowledge the complex, unpaid work of families and friends who support older adults to remain in the community,” researchers wrote. “For example, an analysis of California’s Paid Family Leave law showed that even a mere 6 weeks of mandated paid leave reduced nursing home stays in older adults by 11%.”


Joyce Famakinwa

Joyce Famakinwa is a Chicago area native who cut her teeth as a journalist and writer covering the worker’s compensation industry and creating branded content for tech companies and startups. When she isn’t reporting the latest in home health care news, you can find her indulging in her love of vintage clothing, books, film, live music, theatre and reality tv.