LeadingAge Survey: Social Isolation a Top Challenge in Affordable Senior Housing 

CAST | November 03, 2020 | by Donna Childress

Survey finds 84% of providers chose social isolation as their top challenge, yet in-unit internet access lags.

A recent survey found that most LeadingAge members who provide affordable senior housing have strong concerns about their residents’ social isolation in the coming months. In addition, the internet access that can ease loneliness is a challenge for nearly 40% of residents.

COVID-19 Challenges in Affordable Senior Housing

This population is especially vulnerable to COVID-19 as well as social isolation.
 
Residents of HUD-assisted affordable senior housing communities have average annual incomes below $14,000. They are more likely to be non-white and have more chronic health conditions than their non-HUD-assisted peers. Most survey respondents, nearly 60%, say they are aware of confirmed COVID-19 cases in some or most of their property or properties.
 
HUD-assisted independent housing communities rely on individually determined services and supports that successfully help older adult residents age independently in community. Most affordable housing providers instituted broad visitor restrictions in the early weeks of the pandemic. With minimal staff and no health resources or personnel, housing providers have had to differentiate between service providers and non-essential visitors, while also working against the ravages of social isolation.

Survey Findings

The October 2020 survey found that more than three quarters (84%) of survey respondents consider resident social isolation and access to services to be the top challenge in the next three months.
 
Social connectedness and engagement technologies can ease social isolation, as LeadingAge CAST members all know. Yet, survey findings indicate that most affordable housing residents lack robust internet access. Only 9% of respondents said most of their residents experience minimal barriers in accessing the internet, with 39% saying most of their residents experience barriers in accessing the internet in their units.
 
Many properties do not cover the costs of internet access for their residents, which can further complicate access for low-income residents. Of survey respondents, 41% said that a majority of residents pay internet service providers directly for Wi-Fi in their apartments. Just 18% of respondents said their property pays for internet access in all resident apartments. Only 9% said their property offers reduced rate internet to residents in their apartments.

Implications

Due to the lack of connectivity, LeadingAge has been advocating for 50 million dollars to support federally funded senior housing by providing Wi-Fi campus wide.
 
In a recent McKnight's Senior Living article about the survey, Roger Myers, president and CEO of Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, said that HUD and Congress must treat Wi-Fi in residential units as essential. During a lockdown, said Myers, a resident without Wi-Fi loses important emotional supports. "Mental health impacts physical health; there’s the threat of a downward spiral.”
 
Mark Ricketts, president and CEO of National Church Residences in Columbus, OH, told McKnight's Senior Living that most of his low-income seniors cannot afford digital resources, including telehealth. Most of his residents have chronic medical conditions. “This leaves them cut off from the care, services and support systems they need to remain healthy and socially connected during this challenging time.”

CAST Virtual Experience Presents Social Connectedness Tech Nov. 12

To learn ways to address social isolation, and even hear a resident’s perspective firsthand, be sure to attend Leveraging Social Connectedness Technology During Covid-19 at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting Virtual Experience. This valuable CAST session happens on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, at 1:15 EST

It will present the ways social connectedness technology has enabled communities to creatively meet a variety of social needs during the pandemic.The full meeting takes place online November 10-12 and November 17-19, 2020. Register today

CAST Social Connectedness and Engagement Technology Tool

If your organization is looking to implement tech solutions to connect older adults with loved ones, the CAST Social Connectedness and Engagement Technology Tool is a valuable asset. It will help narrow your choices to options that best fit your needs. This comprehensive tool includes a white paper, interactive guide, selection tool, selection matrix, and provider case studies