One established fact about older adults is that in general they are living longer and healthier lives. There has also been an increasing availability of alternatives to nursing facilities (e.g., assisted living) and an increased use of community-based services (e.g., home health care), with the result that the profile of the "typical" nursing facility resident has changed in significant ways since 1985. There are now three older women for every older man in nursing facilities. This ratio has not changed since 1985, but the percentage of white residents declined from 93 percent in 1985 to 89 percent in 1997. It is very common for women to be widowed at the time of admission. Persons sixty-five years and older using a nursing facility in 1997 had an average age at admission of 82.6 compared to 81.1 in 1985. A common approach used by health care providers to measure functional ability in older adults is activities of daily living (ADLs). This method consists of measuring changes in the person's ability to perform six ADLs. ADLs include such functions as bathing, dressing, and eating. The mean number of ADLs that nursing facility residents experienced difficulty in increased from 3.8 in 1985 to 4.4 in 1997 (Sahyoun et al.; Wunderlich and Kohler). The four ADLs that nursing facility residents receive the most assistance with are bathing (96 percent of residents), dressing (87 percent), toileting (56 percent), and eating (45 percent). Approximately 50 percent of nursing facility residents are over the age of 85. Because of these increases in levels of disability (which have lead to much higher levels of frailty) and the trend towards entering the facility later, operational and clinical challenges have increased for administration and staff, who now must care for sicker, frailer residents with more complex medical problems. These changes have occurred in the context of an "increased use of preadmission screening, expanded role of Medicaid home and community-based waivers, the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid managed care programs, the general trend toward prospective payment, and more rapid discharges from hospitals" (Wunderlich and Kohler, p. 22). As a result, "the services that were once provided in the hospital setting are now more frequently available in the nursing home setting; assisted living environments are starting to provide nursing care; and home health agencies deliver services that were once available only in acute care environments or nursing homes" (Fairchild, Knebl, and Burgos, p. 84).
In 1997, approximately 58 percent of residents were admitted to a nursing facility from a hospital or another nursing facility. Another one-third were admitted from their homes, and 40 percent of this group had been living alone. The most common diagnoses at the time of admission were cardiovascular disease, mental and cognitive disorders, and disorders of the endocrine system (i.e., diabetes mellitus); and, almost without exception, residents had more than one diagnosis when they were admitted. These conditions often contribute to functional decline, which can impact ADLs and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) such as shopping and taking medication. When combined with other risk factors, such as living alone and low income, these conditions make it more and more difficult for a person to remain independent, increasing the risk for admission to an institutional environment such as a nursing facility.
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