Looking Beyond Medicare’s Nursing Home Ratings: What You Really Should Know Before Picking a Facility

This week, The New York Times published an investigative report by Katie Thomas on Medicare’s five-star rating system for nursing homes.  Among its findings: Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare tool relies largely on self-reported data by the facilities themselves and is thus unreliable.

On one hand, this is a bit odd, since Medicare’s website explicitly describes these very shortcomings.  On the other hand, if the article (which will get a lot of attention because it is The New York Times) may encourage consumers to look beyond Medicare’s rating system. And that would be a good thing.

Preventing Malnutrition Among Older Adults

When we think about the health of frail older adults, severe, high-profile illnesses such as dementia, heart disease, cancer, and debilitating arthritis come to mind. But for many seniors, small things can turn a manageable chronic condition into an acute medical crisis.

One is malnutrition.  Spend a little time in a hospital emergency department and you’ll be shocked at how many frail elderly patients arrive malnourished. A new study reports that one of every six older adults living at home reaches a hospital ER weakened by malnutrition and as many as 6 in 10 are at least at risk for the condition.

Six Questions to Ask Before You Move Into a Senior Living Community: A Resident Tells the Inside Story

What should you know before you move into an independent living senior community? To find out, I asked a long-time resident.  But not just any resident.

Len Bachman has been living in an upscale 313-unit independent senior community in Chevy Chase, Maryland for about a decade. In some ways, he’s very typical of his neighbors. Now an active 89, he moved in not long after his wife died and soon after he suffered a serious leg injury that required a couple of months of rehab and home care.

A New Way to Save for Long-Term Care Costs in Old Age, But How Many Will Buy?

Earlier this month, with absolutely no fanfare, the Treasury Department announced what could be a major change in the way we save for retirement. It will now permit people to shift a portion of their 401(k)s or IRAs into a deferred annuity that provides a guaranteed stream of income once you reach old age.

The idea has the potential to fix several flaws in today’s defined contribution retirement plans and it could make it easier for many older Americans to pay for long-term care. But it raises two huge questions: Will consumers understand these complex products, and will insurance companies bother to sell them to a mass market?

We Are A Long Way From An Alzheimer’s Cure

Two take-aways from the recently concluded Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen: First, after years of research, we still know remarkably little about what causes dementia or how to prevent or delay it. Second, the dementia establishment, including the Alzheimer’s Association and the White House’s National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, is so focused on a cure that it pays too little attention to the immediate needs of those who already have dementia and those caring for them.

The conference was filled with academic papers based on small, preliminary studies. Researchers are testing every possible variable in older people’s lives to determine if it could be the key to dementia. And the results were all over the place.

How Can Technology Help Family Caregivers?

For well over a decade, we’ve been tantalized by digital technology’s potential to assist family caregivers. They surely could use help managing the enormous challenges of caring for a loved one.  And enterprising technologists could get very rich creating the right gizmos.

Yet, while digital tech has profoundly changed the rest of our lives over the past few decades, it has done remarkably little for caregivers. And in some important ways it may have made their lives even tougher.

Frail Seniors Want To Live At Home. But Is it More Dangerous?

Frail seniors getting supports and services at home are more likely to be hospitalized than those living in nursing homes, even though those in nursing facilities are often sicker than those in the community, according to a new study in the June issue of the journal Health Services Research (behind a paywall).

The study finds that seniors receiving care at home face both preventable and non-preventable hospitalizations at significantly higher rates than nursing home residents. These elders were at greater risk of hospitalization for potentially preventable conditions, according to the paper by Andrea Wysocki of Brown University; Bob Kane, Ezra Golberstein, Bryan Dowd, and Tetyana Shipee of the University of Minnesota; and Terry Lum of the University of Hong Kong.  These conditions include congestive heart failure, pneumonia, dehydration, and urinary tract infections.

A Modest Step To Improve Medicare Post-Acute Care

Medicare has a huge and growing problem caring for patients after they have been discharged from the hospital. After years of talk, Congress may be about to take a modest but important first step toward cleaning up the mess, and making sure that patients get care that gives them the best chance to live a healthy and active life after a surgery or acute medical episode such as a stroke.

Where Can You Get the Best Nursing Home Value in America?

A new study by AARP, the Commonwealth Fund, and the SCAN Foundation ranks the quality and affordability of nursing homes by state. It finds wide variation in both cost and quality among states but, at least according to some indicators, you get what you pay for: The states with the most affordable facilities are plagued by many poor performers.

This report, part of a much larger study called Raising Expectations, shows that for middle-income families the typical nursing home is unaffordable in every state. Across the country, the median private pay cost of a year’s stay is more than twice median income of households age 65 or older. But the differences among states are vast.

AARP Finds a Huge Gap Among States in Long-Term Services Quality and Access

The quality and accessibility of long-term supports and services depends in large part on where you live, according to a new report by AARP, The Commonwealth Fund, and the SCAN Foundation.

Eight states—Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont, and Wisconsin—provide the best care by nearly all of AARP’s measures. Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Indiana provide the worst, pretty much across each of the five main indicators in the survey.