Study Finds High Rates of Dementia in Assisted Living Facilities

Two-thirds of assisted living residents show some indication of a mental health problem, half suffer from dementia, and a quarter experience depression, according to a study published in the October issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The findings indicate that assisted living residents may have as high a rate of mental health problems as nursing home patients.

Researchers studied 2,100 residents of 193 facilities in four states. Included were three types of residences -- nursing home-like facilities, hotel-like facilities with active social programs, and "Mom and Pop" operations with 16 or fewer residents that are not part of a chain. The investigators found that more than half the residents took medications, including antipsychotics, antidepressants or sedatives.

But Malaz Boustani, M.D., who co-authored the study, cautioned against using the findings to "repeat the overregulation errors we have made with nursing home care." Of assisted living facility residents with mental health challenges, Boustani said, "We don't need to institutionalize them -- we should accommodate them."

In a statement, the Assisted Living Federation of America praised what is the first large-scale comparative study of the mental health of those in assisted living, saying it addressed the challenges administrators face to accommodate residents.

A companion study in the same issue found that two-thirds of residents of randomly selected assisted living facilities in Maryland suffer from dementia. Researchers studied 198 residents of 22 facilities in the city of Baltimore and seven Maryland counties. But despite the prevalence of dementia and psychiatric disorders, researchers found that they are not being adequately recognized and treated.