To say the COVID-19 pandemic hit the senior living industry hard is an understatement. Yet, so many senior living facilities have been able to take to heart the unprecedented challenges, setbacks, and hurdles dealt to them and use them as an opportunity for growth and improvement. But there’s one potential repercussion of COVID-19 that doesn’t get talked about as much in the industry, and it’s one I believe is important to talk about.
After all that’s happened in the industry with executives navigating what senior living and senior care look like during a global health crisis, it only makes you wonder: Could all this unpredictability dispel the next generation from the idea of senior living?
It’s a logical consideration. Opinions about senior living vary so much depending on who you ask, so I wondered how much witnessing a global disease outbreak would tip the scales. It turns out, however, that not much has changed. A survey launched by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), which is still underway, has found that COVID-19 has not changed people’s opinions about senior living, and has even made it more appealing.
People recognize how seriously the industry and senior living executives have taken COVID-19, and how quick they were to implement changes to protocols and procedures to improve the quality of care and safety of their residents. This wasn’t the only factor that sustained people’s opinions about senior living; the pandemic also pushed skilled nursing facilities and long-term care centers to reprioritize their commitment to the happiness and health of their residents, making senior living even more attractive to the next generation.
What are these new initiatives? Here’s what the next generation expects from their senior living experience.
Tech-Savvy Residents Expect Tech-Savvy Facilities
Technology has slowly been finding its place in senior living facilities, but its adoption was accelerated during the pandemic. No one would have described the current generation living in SNFs and LTC centers as ‘tech-savvy,’ but digital know-how has become the new normal for elderly residents. There really was no other way.
Technology became an integral part of residents’ routines when strict quarantine and social distancing guidelines were put in place. It was a resident’s only connection to their families, their friends, and their medical teams during lockdown. It was also the only way residents could safely engage in activities and social events, which are normally a frequent part of a resident’s schedule. Daily video call usage spiked from 16 percent in 2016 to 38 percent daily in 2020 and 80 percent of facilities reported increasing their technology budget to accommodate residents during the pandemic.
This isn’t just a temporary improvement either. Apps and digital platforms proved their benefits and will continue to be a staple in senior living facilities, especially when it comes to social connection, personal convenience, and telehealth care. Given the fact that the next generation of seniors are even more tech-savvy, this is not a perk, it will be an expectation.
Lessening the Mental and Physical Impacts of Social Isolation
Moving into a senior living facility can be an isolating experience for older adults, but feelings of loneliness reached a new high as centers figured out how to keep residents safe during the pandemic. The impact of this was detrimental, as we know that prolonged periods of social isolation not only impact a person’s mental well-being, but can have serious health consequences as well.
After experiencing quarantine and social distancing at the beginning of the pandemic, the next generation now understands just how important their social connections and a robust social life are — vowing to never take it for granted ever again. They expect senior living facilities have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and have mended their processes and procedures to ensure that the level of social isolation that happened during this pandemic will never happen again.
Skilled nursing facilities and long-term care centers would do well to be transparent about this commitment, as it will be top-of-mind when the next generation starts looking into potential facilities for their future. A solid mix of in-person and virtual events and activities will guarantee there isn’t a lull in engagement no matter what the future might bring.
Open Communication Channels With Loved Ones
The beginning of the pandemic was a despairing time for seniors. Facility lockdowns put in place to protect residents from exposure to COVID-19 kept residents from seeing and communicating with their friends and families. This not only kept their friends and families in the dark about their health and safety, but having no open channels of communication also heightened the fear and solitude felt by residents. Senior living facilities now have better methods for staying in touch with residents’ friends and families. Initiatives like facilitating more video calls and sending out more frequent updates can help ensure there is never a break in contact, even in the event of another disease outbreak.
While the pandemic was a frightening and harrowing time, it has pushed senior living facilities to be more supportive, more connected, and more open to new innovations, making them a place where the next generation can feel excited about calling home one day.