Home Care Wallops Senior Living Communities In Consumer Appeal

May 23, 2016, Tim Mullaney, Senior Housing News - Some senior housing leaders believe that the industry needs to help lead a dramatic shift in the way Americans think about aging, to dispel the idea that staying at home for as long as possible is the ideal way to grow older.  That notion indeed appears to be firmly entrenched, at least in the current generation of people 40 and older, according to research findings released Friday.

When asked where they would prefer to receive ongoing care should they need it, 77% of people said their own home, according to survey findings released Friday by The Associated Press and independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.  A senior community was the runner-up preference, but was chosen by only 11% of respondents.  The survey polled nearly 1,700 Americans aged 40 and older, and took place between Feb. 18 and April 9 of this year.

Of those who said they would prefer at-home care, 70% said they would want a family member to provide care, while 22% said they would like a professional home health aide.  Men are more likely than women to want a spouse to provide care (51% to 33%), and women are more likely to prefer children as caregivers (14% to 25%).

This desire to rely on close family for care may be understandable, but it does not reflect what is currently occurring, given that 46% of those people currently receiving home-based care receive services from an aide.  Family members provide care in 52% of these cases.

Furthermore, while it may sound appealing in theory, relying on a spouse for at-home care may not prove satisfactory.

“Those with experience caring for a spouse or partner were the least likely to say it was a positive life experience,” the authors of the 2016 report noted, citing findings from past years.  “They were also the most likely to say the experience caused stress in the family, was a burden on personal finances, and weakened their personal relationship with the person for whom they cared.”

So, there appears to be a disconnect: A huge number of people say home is the ideal care location, yet there is evidence of difficulties and disappointments that sometimes are associated with this preference.  Some in the senior housing industry have a mission to educate people about this disconnect, both to improve the lives of seniors and grow their own business.

“We see it every day, moving into one of our communities is the greatest gift you can give your family, the greatest gift you can give your spouse,” said Ed Kenny, chairman and CEO of LCS, at the 2015 Senior Housing News Summit.  “How do we break the cycle of, staying in your single-family home is a badge of honor … I just think, gosh, why are people waiting so long to realize the benefits of what we do day-in and day-out?”

Starting the Movement

Kenny is not a solitary voice on this issue.  One prominent leader echoing him is David Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA).

“I think Ed is absolutely correct about that,” Schless tells Senior Housing News.  “In my own family, in my first-hand experience, I’ve seen you can have meals delivered and home health delivered, but if that person [at home] is socially isolated, they’re in a terrible place.”

While changing the way Americans view aging at home is a tremendous undertaking, ASHA is making moves to at least start down that road.  In January, the association launched the “Where You Live Matters” consumer education initiative, the centerpiece of which is a website.

One well-publicized aspect of the campaign is to provide consumers with trustworthy information about senior housing options.  Perhaps one reason that so few people say they would prefer to receive care in a senior community is because they actually don’t have an accurate understanding of what they are, Schless notes, and “Where You Live Matters” aims to help remedy that.

But, another important facet of “Where You Live Matters” is taking on the common assumption that remaining at home is something to strive for as you age.

“I think that what we’re doing with the site, at its core, is challenging the myth that staying in your home is the goal of successful aging,” Schless says.

For example, the website homepage features a video of Dr. Roger Landry, author of the book “Live Long, Die Short” and president of Masterpiece Living—a multi-specialty organization that partners with senior living operators to implement research-based programs to enhance resident experiences.

“Our home, when we’re working and rushing around, are havens for us,” Landry says in the video.  “Later on in life, you’re not going out there and doing all of that, so now your haven becomes a prison.”

The initial rollout of the website has been successful, Schless says.  Now, a focus is on increasing the number of senior housing operators linking their websites to the “Where You Live Matters” site.

ASHA has tracked how visitors interact with the website; those who click onto it from, say, a paid advertisement on Facebook do not engage with it as comprehensively as those who find it via a link on a senior living provider’s site, Schless says.  Those people tend to have a high-quality visit, including watching videos and engaging with a variety of the resources available.

“It’s exactly what you would expect and want to see happen,” Schless says.

It would seem to be in the interest of senior housing operators to help build momentum for the “Where You Live Matters” initiative, given the growth potential for the industry if they can convince some of that 77% that home might not in fact be the ideal setting for senior care.

“The senior living industry is serving between 7% and 10% of the current 75-plus, 85-plus population, so there’s an enormous opportunity,” Schless says.  “If we could help people make the decision to move into senior living, make that decision earlier, the impact on the industry’s occupancy is incredible.  There’s enormous upside to ‘Where You Live Matters’ and helping educate and dispel the myths that people clearly have about senior living.”