Aging in place
As assisted living residents grow older and more frail, the facilities where they reside and the regulators who monitor them are struggling to keep up.
COLMAN M HERMANJan 13, 2015
LAURA SHUFELT VIVIDLY remembers the February 2013 call from the assisted living facility in Centerville where her mother was living. A nurse at the facility told Shufelt her mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, was being transported to Cape Cod Hospital because of unexplained bruises on her buttocks and wrist, pain in her shoulder, and an “altered mental state.”
Shufelt raced to the hospital and was shocked at what she found. “My mother was barely conscious,” she says. “I found her all curled up in the fetal position sobbing with the covers over her head. She didn’t know who I was. She didn’t know anything. She was saying things like, ‘Why did they do this to me? Don’t let him do it to me again. Why did this happen to me?’ It was horrible! Absolutely horrible!”
Doctors told Shufelt that her 5’2”, 95-pound mother, Rita Meuse, had a broken shoulder and was severely dehydrated. A nurse discovered bruising around her anus. Shufelt noticed her mother’s engagement and wedding rings were missing. A psychiatrist diagnosed Meuse with post-traumatic stress disorder. To calm the 83-year old, he posted signs in her room saying, “Rita, you are safe here.”
What happened to Rita Meuse highlights why there is growing concern about assisted living facilities in Massachusetts. The apartment-like residences cater to elderly people who need assistance to live independently, yet as residents age and their physical and mental faculties deteriorate, their need for assistance sometimes outstrips the ability of the facilities to provide it.
State regulators are also coming under fire for not regulating assisted living facilities more closely. Operating under a state law passed in 1994 and regulations promulgated in 1995, 1996, and 2006, state officials continue to view assisted living facilities as residential communities where tenants can pretty much fend for themselves. Yet advocates for the elderly say this type of walk-softly regulation is not suited for facilities housing a very frail population in which cognitive impairment is common. They say regulators need to do a better job of making sure the staff at assisted living facilities is properly trained and any complaints or concerns from residents are addressed promptly.