Long-term care residents: Growing old or growing young?

Earlier today, NPR broadcasted the findings of its Investigative Unit’s analysis of nursing home data from the Department of Health and Human Services. According to its report, younger people (ages 31 to 64), now comprise 14% of the nursing home population. That demographic has increased 10% from 10 years ago.

Why? States facing budget crises have had to make significant cuts to attendant care programs, such as in the case of Michelle Fridley whose story is profiled on the program. Fridley was in an auto accident while she was pregnant 10 years ago. Her injuries left her a quadriplegic. Throughout this time, she has managed to live in her own home with the help of state-funded personal care assistants.

Physical disabilities, however, are not the only reasons that younger residents are showing up in long-term care, according to the NPR report. Nancy Miller, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, also cites that younger people are presenting with the same types of afflictions as older residents such as diabetes, renal failure, and mental health problems. Janice Zalen of the American Health Care Association states that nursing homes are there to help those who don’t have other care choices or can’t manage to retain in-home services.

Michelle Fridley still lives on her own with her daughter and is an active participant in the disability civil rights group ADAPT. Last spring, the group staged a protest in Washington, D.C. to bring its mission to public attention, NPR reported. Their mission is to have Congress make it mandatory for states to expand their in-home attendants programs to accommodate all people with disabilities regardless of age and to pass the Community Choice Act. Cuts to these programs are expected to continue next year.

Of course, no one wants to lose their independence, but sometimes that situation is inevitable and long-term care might be the best option available. However, with this new age group, adjustments should be made to maintain all the positives that culture change has claimed for seniors—quality of life, social opportunities, choice. Has your organization experienced an increase in admissions of working age adults? Have you redesigned or added programming and services to appeal to this age demographic?

The upcoming “silver tsunami” might not be the only wave that long-term care needs to address.

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