The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the senior population in the United States significantly. Approximately 16% of the American population is over the age of 65. Florida and Maine have one of the highest percentages of elderly with over 20% of the population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, among adults, the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at higher risk. The CDC notes that you get older, your risk of being hospitalized for COVID-19 increases. Approximately 8 out of the 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older.
Seniors across the nation living in assisted living, retirement living, or a form of long-term care such as nursing homes have been impacted severely by this virus. According to an article published by KFF, assisted living facilities in the United States are home to over 800,000 elderly residents. Assisted living facilities are not federally regulated like nursing homes, leaving the state to decide whether they report data or impose restrictions. Per the article, less than half of all states report COVID-19 cases in assisted living facilities and even fewer report deaths. Also, COVID-19 cases and deaths in assisted living facilities have increased, with a notable increase in cases among staff.
According to an article written for Senior Housing News, there were genuine concerns for independent living facilities and housing for seniors. However, the article notes that independent living communities have largely been able to keep the virus at bay. As of June 30, the penetration rate for independent living averaged 0.4%. Per the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care survey cited in the article, the virus’s penetration rate was 2.9% for assisted living communities and 3.9% for memory care. Across the United States, occupancy rates among independent living have declined, yet many seniors still move into these locations.
According to an article written in FREOPP in May 2020, the author notes nursing homes and assisted living facilities accounted for 42% of COVID-19 deaths. Approximately 2.1 million seniors live in nursing homes or residential care facilities, representing 0.6% of the U.S. population.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Senior Living
The on-going pandemic has impacted seniors across the nation in many ways. Per the Pew Research Center, older Americans are most likely to see the outbreak as a major threat to their health and less likely to see it as a threat to their personal financial situation. The survey done in late April and early May 2020 indicated 49% felt it was a threat to their health. Overall, the toll of the new coronavirus has had a domino effect on the entire senior living industry. Per an article written for KFF, cases, and deaths in long-term care facilities declined in May and June 2020, but in many parts of the country are on the rise again. Long-term care settings have accounted for more than 70,000 deaths of residents and staff as of August 2020.
However, the impact of COVID-19 has forced the senior living industry to reassess and potentially reboot strategies for defining senior housing and services, per a report produced by the International Council of Active Aging Adults. The report addresses questions regarding how senior living communities will look in 2021 or even over the next three to five years. The pandemic’s effect has made many older adults reluctant to commit to any communal type of housing arrangement, which is how many senior living residences operate. There are significant changes to be made within the senior living industry. Yet seniors continue to be affected; for example, loneliness doubled for older adults in the pandemic’s first months.
Per a National Poll on Healthy Aging published by the University of Michigan in June of 2020, 56% of people over the age of 50 said they sometimes or often feel isolated from others. Social contacts among older adults also suffered, with 46% reporting in June they infrequently interacted with friends, neighbors, or family outside their household. Older adults’ social and emotional needs are only one aspect of what needs to be considered moving with the senior housing industry.
Managing COVID-19 and Isolation Among Seniors
A study published by the World Health Organization examined the impact of sheltering in place and social distancing among adults aged 60 and older during the pandemic. Approximately 36% of respondents reported being stressed, and 42.5% reported being lonely. Also, nearly one-third stated that their sense of loneliness increased during the time of social distancing. Seniors reported engaging in more solitary activities and using email and text messaging more. Approximately two-thirds of seniors reported using more social media than usual and reporting physical activity changes, drinking, recreational drug use, and sleeping patterns.
During the early stages of the pandemic, social distancing, isolation, and the on-going government intervention had significant consequences among the senior population. Seniors have had to manage the problems surround loneliness and anxiety amid the pandemic. Supporting seniors during this time is important. Supporting seniors could include asking about their appetites, sleep patterns, and moods to discover red flags. Also, finding creative ways to connect while still being physically apart or arranging a few unpromoted acts of kindness. Technology has played an integral role in helping seniors stay connected to their loved ones, along with providing medical support through telemedicine.
The Current State of Senior Housing During the Pandemic
There will be on-going concerns regarding the state of senior housing in America going into the new year. Overall, the senior living industry is learning to manage the current situation. According to Senior Housing News, providers are in a management phase of the pandemic adapting to stabilize operations, boost occupancy rates, rein in expenses, and provide a safe environment for residents. However, many of these communities are struggling with financial distress and bankruptcy.
Some financial relief has come as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that private-pay assisted living facilities could apply for funding through its Provider Relief Fund. Also, the imbalance between debt and equity with capital providers has stabilized as it was pre-pandemic. However, non-profit providers will continue to struggle with operational issues stemming from decreasing occupancy. Overall, the move in rates among seniors bottomed out in March and April but has regained traction by the end of 2020.