As I’m sure you’re aware, COVID-19 cases are surging as a result of the Delta variant. In many areas, hospitals are exceeding capacity as more and more people — especially the unvaccinated — fall seriously ill. It is easy to feel forlorn reading headlines about another round of potential restrictions, remembering the isolation and loneliness so many people experienced last time we were in this position.
But on this front, there is a glimmer of hope coming from a somewhat surprising group: senior living residents. A recent survey from software firm Activated Insights found that just 20 percent of residents of senior living communities said they feel “severely lonely.”
This 64,000-person survey of residents and families of those in senior congregate living settings (such as a 55+ independent living community, assisted living community, or continuing care retirement community [CCRC], for example — though not nursing home residents in this particular survey) actually found a decline in loneliness among these seniors as compared to pre-pandemic research findings. (For instance, in a 2018 study, up to 29 percent of those living in subsidized senior housing described themselves as “severely lonely.”)
Satisfaction with senior living
On top of these somewhat surprising results around loneliness, the senior living industry as a whole also scored higher than might be expected right now for customer satisfaction.
Many senior living communities, especially nursing homes, were hard-hit in the early months of COVID as staff and residents contracted the highly contagious virus. Yet, Activated Insights’ survey discovered that 87 percent of residents and their family members said they would recommend their senior living community to a friend. Additionally, 87 percent rated their organizations as “good” or better.
Resident respondents also appear to have grown in their appreciation for the “community” aspect of their senior living community. In the survey, 60 to 70 percent of respondents said the “best thing” about where they live related to aspects like belonging, community, appreciating the staff, and feeling safe. For context, prior to the COVID pandemic, when survey respondents were asked this about their senior living community, 20 percent or fewer of responses revolved around these themes.
Benefits of the senior living experience
The results of the Activated Insights survey offer an eye-opening glimpse into the realities of the lived experience of senior living residents. But what’s more, the findings defy the ageist stereotypes we as a society have created about the senior living industry, especially since the onset of the pandemic: the image of the dejected, scared, isolated senior.
Of course, there are senior living residents who have suffered tremendously over the past 18+ months as they endured separation from loved ones, illness, and even death. But as this survey reveals, these people are thankfully the exception rather than the rule.
A much larger portion of those living in a senior living community have experienced an increased sense of wellbeing this past year-plus — relishing in the power of community, savoring the value of friendships, and basking in a sense of gratitude that they are safe and well.
The source of these sentiments may have to do with human resilience. Thinking back to other times when we have been tested, people have a natural tendency to come together to face a shared threat, rising to the occasion as a community. We saw this phenomenon during World War II, the polio crisis, and after 9/11. And we’re witnessing it now among many within the senior living community.
The resilience of the human spirit
Just as during trying times of the past, the COVID-19 pandemic is putting us all through our paces. It has been a difficult time for nearly everyone. Within the senior living industry more specifically, there’s no question there are lessons learned as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which should lead to changes within the industry.
But let’s not dismiss the numerous benefits that many senior living residents are experiencing right now, even in the era of COVID-19. What we’re seeing from so many senior living residents, as reflected in the Activated Insights survey, is renewed resiliency, a flourishing sense of hope, and rekindled feelings of gratitude for their community. Perhaps these sentiments — rather than the ageist stereotypes we’ve created — should be the focus for the media, senior living administrators, and society as a whole.
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