By Susan Saldibar

We shouldn’t need a report to tell us that it’s time to start taking loneliness seriously. But in case you do, iN2L has just released a report called “Bridging the Loneliness Gap”. You can download it here.

The report contains findings of a survey conducted with 100 senior living community leaders., as well as 150 residents and 500 family members/senior care decision-makers. The results force us to confront some inconvenient truths about our aging population in senior living, namely what you probably already know. They were lonely before COVID and they are even more lonely now.

But there is hope, so read on.

Lisa Taylor, iN2L CEO (iN2L is a Senior Living Foresight partner) shared some of the numbers from the report. Along with her own observations, based on talking with senior living leadership over the last several months. “The rationale behind the survey was to better understand the needs and challenges facing these three groups so that we can be part of the solution,” Lisa explains.

“Loneliness is connected to so many issues. And now COVID is exacerbating its impact. Data and feedback from stakeholders are critical to finding the answer to this problem.”

Here are three themes they see emerging, along with some numbers and insights.

#1: Loneliness Is Prevalent Among Residents, and It’s Not New

  • Before the pandemic, 39% of residents said they were often or always lonely, although only 1% of community leaders shared this estimate.
  • 50% of senior living residents have never felt like they had any friends in their community.
  • Most alarming: During the pandemic, the number of residents who reported always feeling lonely increased by 230%.

“Loneliness is a serious issue,” Lisa says. “But there is a disconnect in perception of among residents, their families, and community leaders, as the numbers tell us.”

She acknowledges the dramatic 230% increase in those who since the pandemic hit “always” feel lonely. However, based on her conversations with CEOs, Lisa is sensing a greater willingness to recognize loneliness and a greater readiness to take action. Let’s hope she’s right.

#2. Opportunities to Connect and Engage Socially Is Considered “Critical” by Residents and Family

  • Family members report that not having opportunities for residents to socialize with each other would be their number one reason not to recommend a senior living community.
  • 99% of community leaders agree that having friends impacts residents’ well-being.
  • However, 2 in 5 of these leaders believe that the ability to digitally connect is only of average or little importance.

Once again, the survey uncovered a disconnect between the importance of relationship and providing that connection. The value of using technology to facilitate those friendships is still a concept senior living management struggles to accept. But families are starting to demand it.

And Lisa aptly notes that families and referrals are a big source of leads for communities. “Community leaders still seem to lack awareness that technology can really connect people,” she says. “I believe those who recognize the importance of using technology to connect and engage will have a competitive edge — but they must be able to offer proof points about how they will connect.”

#3: Tailored Engagement Is Considered Essential — But Operators Are Challenged to Provide It

  • 73% of residents and 78% of family members say that activities specifically tailored to residents are “absolutely essential” or “very important” to their well-being. 
  • Only 24% of family members, however, give top marks to the community’s use of resident information to tailor and assist in selecting activities and creating individualized care for their loved one.
  • 62% of community leaders reported being less able to create tailored engagement activities for residents compared to pre-pandemic times.
  • 92% of leadership believe using residents’ backgrounds and interests to personalize care is “extremely” or “very important” to recruitment. However, only 33% say it’s feasibleLisa identifies the second most cited reason to recommend a community: their loved one have opportunities to engage in ways that fit their own unique interests

Community leadership has some work to do here. “Solving for the ability to cultivate resident friendships and providing personalized engagement will be critical for resident and family satisfaction with their community of choice,” she says. That means leadership needs to listen more carefully to the message that residents and families are sending to them: Residents are lonely. How will communities use all the tools available to turn this around

Lisa also has great hopes and believes that leadership is starting to get that message and acknowledge the seriousness of loneliness in their communities. And, ironically, the pandemic has played a central role.

“COVID has put a huge spotlight on loneliness. So as crazy as it sounds, it could be a really good outcome of the pandemic,” Lisa says. I think we’re all hoping for that!

You can download the full report here. For more information about iN2L, please visit their website.