Given COVID-19, what does the future of senior care look like?
While we are all hoping for continued advancements in the scientific understanding of COVID-19 including vaccine and therapeutic developments, our team at CareLinx has been focused for months on helping our community safely and effectively receive all of their care needs.
Although eventually there will be an end to this unprecedented pandemic, the question of “when” is still unknown. Medical experts and researchers are theorizing and preparing for life post-COVID-19. One looming question is, “What will senior living communities look like after the pandemic?” We know that prior to COVID, 90% of seniors surveyed preferred home care versus a community based care setting. Given the spread of COVID-19 in institutional settings, will even more people now favor home care in a post COVID-19 reality? With social isolation dragging on for months on months, it is crucial to plan for ways our aging loved ones can regain meaningful social interactions and still safely access care.
Here are some examples of the potential changes you might see with senior living post-COVID-19:
- Technology - If senior care facilities were not already utilizing technology, they are now. Both the CDC and CMS have provided directed guidance on the need for strict infection control in both independent living and long term care senior facilities. Given the chronic underlying medical conditions of the seniors served, the shared communal spaces and high risk of morbidity and mortality due to COVID-19 in these settings, the elderly have faced extreme isolation. According to Gary Hall, MD, Chief Medical Officer for HMS, seniors experiencing loneliness and self-isolation have an increased risk of contracting dementia, stroke, and coronary artery disease. So what is happening now to combat these worries? Technology! Senior living communities have been working hard, and largely succeeding, to provide access to virtual visits. Scheduled virtual visits with family, loved ones, and friends to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and just say hello have become routine. What technology considerations will need to be next to migrate from frantic uptake and deployment to measured progress? We expect a trend towards high speed connectivity, improved hardware solutions and software access and training.
- More home based care - Many families are worried about the health of their loved ones. Nervous about large senior living communities, the demand for at-home care from professional caregivers has increased significantly. 90% of seniors prefer to age at home and healthcare is moving towards a home based model as well (Source: Home Care Magazine). Professional caregivers are a critical element in supporting seniors with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) like meal preparation, grocery shopping and cooking, and providing social companionship during this time of mandatory physical distancing.
- Telehealth - Telehealth has boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic; seniors can now seek healthcare services for a wide range of issues from consultations to behavioral health from the comfort of their home. In March 2020, CMS announced expansion of Medicare telehealth coverage enabling beneficiaries to receive a wider range of healthcare services from their doctors at home during the public health emergency (Source: CMS.gov). During a time of social distancing, telehealth provides an important opportunity to receive care in the safety of one’s own home. Although telehealth has seen a huge increase in usability, there are ongoing challenges.. According to the Kaiser Family Foundations latest health tracking poll, 68% of seniors have access to smart devices, but only 11% utilize them for talking with doctors and/or health professionals. Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai reiterated his stance on closing the digital divide, emphasizing how everyone deserves fair access to internet access (Source: Medium.com). Telehealth demands continued investment in hardware and software access and usability as well as considerations for in-home devices, voice and engagement technology and smart home advancements. Leveraging the in-home caregiver for set-up, maintenance and data reliability as the post-COVID reality unfolds will be a critical part of the solution.