Jacquelyn Kung and Bob Kramer discuss surprises about Senior Living during the pandemic

Foresight TV Recap: The Counterintuitive Way to Attract More Move-Ins

The media has gotten it wrong when it comes to its coverage of senior living, particularly during the pandemic. 

“There’s a stereotype that older adults, especially those living in any type of senior living community, have lost all independent agency. So that feeds the perception, the sense that in the midst of COVID, they’re desperately lonely, desperately afraid,” said Bob Kramer, Founder and Fellow of Nexus Insights. “There’s no common perception that they, too, could rise to a crisis, just like we see other people in society do.” 

Senior Living Foresight publisher Steve Moran hosted Kramer and Jacquelyn Kung, Nexus Fellow and CEO of Activated Insights, in a recent episode of Foresight TV entitled “The Counterintuitive Way to Attract More Move-Ins.” 

“Media tends to write stories that reinforce what journalists feel, or what they believe their audience feels, and add facts to magnify those feelings,” said Kung. 

But it’s more than just the media, according to Kramer, “All of us quickly fall into believing in stereotypes, and parroting them. That narrative doesn’t get it right at all. And that’s what we’re trying to address, with the rich data that Jacquelyn and her team have collected at Activated Insights.”

Activated Insights has been surveying senior living residents and their families since 2018. These surveys provide insights into the actual experiences that residents and their families have with congregate living. Their experiences during the COVID pandemic and shutdown are surprisingly different from the national perception. 

One of the surprising findings: When looking at the incidence of loneliness in congregate settings, specifically senior living, the Activated Insights research found that just under 20% of seniors counted themselves as very lonely. 

“I think the image over the last year-and-a-half is that everyone in a senior living community is feeling trapped and lonely,” reported Kung. “But 4 out of 5 seniors are not feeling like that.”

Even more surprising? Prior to COVID, the incidence of loneliness among senior living residents was 26-27%, higher than what was found during the pandemic shutdown.

“It’s not that we’re saying there aren’t some very lonely and scared seniors in our senior living communities,” Kramer added. “But the perception that all seniors are feeling terrified, trapped and lonely isn’t borne out by what the data show. We’re all quick to jump onto stereotypes, and sometimes those stereotypes miss what’s truly going on. We want to get that contrarian message out.”

“Providers believe they know how their residents feel, because they hear from them every day,” she added. “But do they hear from everybody? No.” – Jacquelyn Kung

According to Kung, prior to the pandemic, resident survey responses frequently focused on “the usual: the food, the seasoning, the staff.” But during the pandemic, “The comments were an outpouring of community and belonging,” as well as gratitude for being in the community, and gratitude for feeling safe. “This isn’t what the media is covering about the pandemic,” she said.

The two pointed out that now, when the industry is particularly stressed, the data provide insights into how to attract people to live in a congregate setting. The important stories to tell are those about the sense of being safe, of belonging, and being part of the community. “It’s contrary to the perception,” said Kung.

“Providers believe they know how their residents feel, because they hear from them every day,” she added. “But do they hear from everybody? No. And providers are often surprised at the results when they finally survey everyone. When you don’t actually ask people, then you may be working on the wrong things. You may not be working on things that actually matter to your customers. How do we delight and provide quality experiences for our customers and their families? It’s by hearing from everyone, and not just a few who come to you.”

Listen to the full episode.

Jacquelyn Kung is the CEO of Activated Insights and a Nexus Insights Fellow. Bob Kramer is the Founder and Fellow of Nexus Insights. He is the co-founder, Strategic Advisor, and former CEO of NIC. Steve Moran is Publisher of Senior Living Foresight.

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Ageism and Ableism

The Pandemic is Exposing Ageism and Ableism — and that’s a good thing

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the nation’s older population. In the process, it has also brought ageism and ableism — discrimination on the basis of physical and cognitive function — into the spotlight. Writer and activist Ashton Applewhite, the author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, argues that this presents us with a unique opportunity to educate people about these two intertwined forms of bias, and to mobilize against them. 

Media coverage of anything aging-related has long been characterized by alarmist hand-wringing, the most egregious example being the gray tsunami metaphor. Coverage of the pandemic is no exception, given that some three quarters of COVID19-related deaths are of people over age 65, many occurring in nursing homes where the virus has run largely unchecked. Typical headlines read, “Ageism on the rise” and “Pandemic making ageism worse!” Don’t make the same mistake.

The pandemic isn’t generating more prejudice, it’s glaringly exposing the ageism and ableism that have been all around us all along. Because ageism is so unexamined, the pandemic is bringing it to many people’s attention for the first time. It’s not ageist and ableist attitudes and behaviors that are on the rise, it’s public awareness and outrage about this type of stigma and discrimination. That’s what’s new and here’s what makes it so exciting: we have a historic opportunity to build on that awareness.

Yes, there’s been awfulness, but there’s also been swift, fierce pushback: against the Telegraph journalist who suggested the virus could benefit the economy by “culling” older Britons; against the Boomer Remover nickname, the handiwork of clueless trolls; against the Texas Lieutenant Governor’s grotesque proposal that grandparents sacrifice themselves for the good of the economy. Supporting this kind of grassroots activism means framing the pandemic, in all its terror and uncertainty, as an unprecedented opportunity to join forces across age, race, and class and create a more equitable post-pandemic society.

The author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, Ashton Applewhite is a leading spokesperson for the emerging movement to raise awareness of ageism and to dismantle it. Ashton has been recognized by the New York Times, the New Yorker, National Public Radio, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism. She blogs at This Chair Rocks and is the voice of Yo, Is This Ageist?  Ashton speaks widely at venues that have ranged from the United Nations to the TED mainstage, has written for Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times, and is a co-founder of the Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse.

This post first appeared on Ashton’s This Chair Rocks blog. 

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