Senior health needs changed perceptions of residential housing options due to the Covid-19 impact on the elderly. The Pew Research Center in 2020 reported that nearly one-third of all adults aged 60 and older live alone, and most live in their own homes. The need for decreased social interaction to avoid Covid-19 infection plus high fatality risk has fostered an increased lack of physical and psychological support among seniors living in their own homes. While also the case for seniors in residential and/or assisted living communities, seniors living independently in houses have been especially unable to access care and social support during this coronavirus pandemic.
Described below are how senior living options and choices are likely to change in future consequent to Covid-19, as well as factors driving this shift.
Link between Physical/Mental Activity and Maintenance of Cognitive Abilities
A medical research article in Advances in Physiology Education reported that – after age 65 – both brain volume and gray matter volume decrease, but regular exercise was linked to reduced brain and gray matter volume loss. Furthermore, study findings published in Nature showed a positive effect of regular exercise on the brains of elderly people in three specific cognitive areas:
- Verbal memory;
- Executive functioning;
Mental activity (such as promoted through social interaction) has also been well-linked to fostering the maintenance of cognitive abilities. Since avoiding the development of dementia is a high priority among senior-aged adults – and congregate senior living is more likely to promote physical/mental activity through such group activities as yoga and computer learning classes – the future of senior living and assisted living as a housing choice for senior-aged people remains excellent.
A major and adverse impact of the current Covid-19 pandemic on seniors has been an overall increased home-bound status. One consequence has been an increased societal awareness across the US of the lessened capacity of the elderly in their own homes to engage in group physical exercise and learning activities as compared to their counterparts in congregate housing environments. Moreover, this increased awareness is likely to heighten interest on the part of older-aged adults to relocate earlier in their senior years to an independent senior living or assisted living residential setting as a strategy to preserve cognition over the full lifespan.
Employment Shifts and Impact on Senior Housing Preferences
The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a major toll on the US economy, and more adult offspring than ever who were formerly able to aid elderly parents may relocate far away to acquire or maintain employment. In turn, this may leave even more seniors without family members to assist or visit them. Likewise, the high prevalence of fatigue among older-aged Covid-19 survivors may mean less family-based assistance available to elderly family members living alone in a house.
Predicted by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies is that the number of adults in their 80s and 90s will at least double to 17.5 million by 2038, with a concomitant increase in the numbers of frail elders living alone. (Likewise, the federal DHHS predicts a 129% increase in this same age demographic by 2040.) This population-based trend was promoting interest among family caregivers of the “old-old” (as well as elder-aged people themselves) in moving to senior congregate housing even before onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, the future of senior living residential facilities is likely to be even brighter after the conclusion of the Covid-19 pandemic – and especially if offering the type of homecare services formerly provided by adult offspring.
Perceived Benefits of Congregate Senior Living by Elders and Their Adult Offspring
Despite the well-publicized Covid-19 outbreaks at specific assisted living residences and nursing homes, the implementation resulting from increased understanding of Covid-19 risk-reduction protocols has enabled limited-mobility residents of these facilities to receive caregiving visits all too often unavailable in an elderly person’s own house – and especially if that house has a flight of stairs. Whether a senior is living in an independent congregate housing setting, assisted living facility, or publicly-funded senior housing, that individual can depend upon a baseline level of support and social interaction within a community of other older-aged people.
The future of senior living and assisted living residential settings depends largely upon whether the availability of personal care services and social interaction – in tandem with activities to promote physical exercise and mental activity – will be enough of an incentive to motivate seniors living alone at home to relocate to a new environment. Given the changed societal priorities consequent to the Covid-19 pandemic, the future of senior living communities likely will be even more public health-minded while also focused more on meeting a wider array of its residents’ physical and emotional support needs.