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A pandemic result: the elderly are having second thoughts about where to live

Some people who have planned to move to senior housing are now choosing to live independently rather than in community. Others wonder if moving to an environment where they can get more assistance might be the call.

These decisions, already difficult enough in ordinary times, are now fraught with uncertainty as the economy falters and deaths from Covid-19 soar, including tens of thousands in nursing homes and assisted living centers.

Teresa Ignacio Gonzalvo and her husband, Jaime, both 68, chose to build a home rather than move to a retirement community that they continue to care for when they move from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Indianapolis later this year. to be closer to their daughters.

After hearing about blockades across the country due to the coronavirus, Gonzalvo said: “We realized we are not ready to lose our independence.”


Alissa Ballot, 64, plans to leave her 750-square-foot apartment in downtown Chicago and take root in a multigenerational cohousing community where neighbors typically share dining and recreation areas and often help each other.

“What I learned during this pandemic is that personal relationships are more important to me, not the place,” he said.

Kim Beckman, 64, and her husband Mike, were ready to give up being homeowners in Victoria, Texas, and join a 55-plus-year-old community or rent an independent condo in North Texas before Covid- 19 hit.

Now, they’re considering buying an even bigger home because “if you’re going to be in the house all the time, you might as well feel comfortable,” Beckman said.

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“Everyone I know talks about it,” said Wendl Kornfeld, 71, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He temporarily presented the prospect of moving to a retirement community being built in the Bronx.

“My husband and I are going to play it by ear; we want to see how things go” with the pandemic, she said.

In Kornfeld circles, people are more busy than ever staying in their homes or apartments for as long as possible, at least at the moment. Their fear: If they move to an elderly community, they may be more likely to encounter a Covid-19 epidemic.

“We have all heard of the huge number of deaths in aged care facilities,” Kornfeld said. But people who remain in their own homes may have a hard time finding affordable help when needed, he acknowledged.

Avoid nursing homes in the midst of the pandemic

According to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation tally, more than 70,000 residents and staff members in nursing homes and assisted living facilities had died of Covid-19 in mid-August.

This is an underestimate because less than half of the states report data for Covid-19 in assisted life. Nor are data reported for people living independently in aged care homes. (Kaiser Health News is an editorial independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

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As a result, senior life nervousness has spread, and in July, the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care reported the lowest employment rates since the research organization began monitoring data 14 years ago. .

Employment decreased more in assisted living (a decline of 3.2% from April to June, compared to January through March) compared to independent living (a decline of 2.4%). The organization does not collect data on nursing homes.

In a separate NIC survey of senior real estate executives in August, 74% said families had expressed concern about the relocation as Covid cases increased in many parts of the country.

Overcoming possible isolation

The potential for social isolation is of particular concern, as facilities maintain restrictions on family visits and group meals and activities. (While states have begun to allow outside visits to nursing homes and assisted living centers, most facilities still don’t allow inside visits, a situation that will increase frustration when the weather turns cold.)

Beth Burnham Mace, chief economist and director of the NIC, stressed that practitioners have responded aggressively by instituting new safety and hygiene protocols, moving scheduling online, helping residents get groceries and other essential supplies, and communicating regularly on Covid. -19, both on-site and in the community at large, much more regularly.

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Mary Kazlusky, 76, lives an independent life in Heron’s Key, a community of continually caring retirees in Gig Harbor, Washington, doing all this and more with a sister facility, Emerald Heights in Redmond, Washington.

“We all feel safe here,” he said. “Even though we are strongly advised against going into each other’s apartments, at least we can see each other in the lobby and down the lobby and down the decks outside. As for isolation, you are isolating yourself here with over 200 people: there is always someone around “.

A Heron’s Key staff member tested positive for Covid-19 in August, but has recovered. Twenty residents and staff members tested positive at Emerald Heights. Two residents and a staff member died.

Colin Milner, chief executive of the International Council on Active Aging, points out that some communities are doing a better job than others. His organization recently released a report on the future of older people’s lives in light of the pandemic.

Calls on practitioners to introduce a number of changes, including the creation of safe visiting areas for families both indoors and out; provision of high-speed Internet services in all communities; and ensuring adequate supplies of masks and other forms of personal protective equipment for residents and staff, among other recommendations.

Some families now wish they had arranged for older relatives to receive care in a more structured setting before the pandemic began. They are finding that older relatives who live independently, especially those who are frail or have mild cognitive impairment, have a hard time managing themselves.

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“I’ve heard from many people – mostly older daughters – that we’ve waited too long to move mom or dad, we had our heads in the sand, you can help us find a place for them,” said Allie Mazza, who owns Brandywine. Senior Concierge Services in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

While many operators have instituted relocation moratoriums early in the pandemic, most now allow new residents as long as they test negative for Covid-19. Quarantines of up to two weeks are also required before people can move into the community.

Many seniors, however, simply don’t have the financial means to make a move. According to a 2019 study, more than half of middle-income seniors – nearly 8 million seniors – cannot afford independent living or assisted living communities.

And more than 7 million seniors are poor, according to the federal Supplemental Poverty Measure, which includes out-of-pocket medical bills and other drains on cash reserves.

Questions to ask

For those unable to consider senior citizens’ accommodation, experts suggest asking several questions:

• How does the facility communicate with residents and families? Have you had a Covid outbreak? Is it disclosing Covid cases and deaths? Do you share the latest guidance from federal, state and local public health authorities?

• What protocols have been established to ensure security? “I want to know: do they have a plan in place for disasters – not just the pandemic but also floods, fires, hurricanes, blizzards?” Milner said. “And besides a plan, do they have supplies in place?”

• How does the community involve residents? Is online scheduling available – gymnastics classes, conferences, interest group meetings? Are individual interactions with staff possible? Are staff members organizing online interactions via FaceTime or Zoom with family? Are family visits allowed?

“Engagement and social stimulation are more important than ever,” said David Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association.

• What is the financial situation of the company and the employment rate? “Properties with an occupancy rate of 90% or higher will be able to withstand the pressures of Covid-19 far more than properties with an occupancy of less than 80%, in my opinion,” said Mace of the National Investment Center. for Seniors Housing & Care. More employment means more income, which allows institutions to better afford the extra expenses associated with the pandemic.

“Transparency is very important,” Schless said.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a non-profit news service that covers health issues. It is an editorially independent program of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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