Perceptions of Senior Living Slide, But Most Consumers Unshaken by Covid-19

Prospective residents and their loved ones largely have not soured on the idea of moving into a senior living community despite Covid-19, although the pandemic has taken a toll on consumer sentiment.

That’s according to a new survey conducted for the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) by ProMatura Group, an Oxford, Mississippi-based senior living market research firm. The survey includes responses from a “lead list” of prospective customers of 115 participating ASHA member communities. It also was supplemented by a “purchased list” of surveys from households aged 75 or older, with incomes of at least $35,000 and living in one of the 15 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) where the 115 ASHA member communities reside.

ASHA released the survey’s preliminary results to its members Monday. The organization plans to release a final report this summer that will include a regional analysis of the survey’s findings.

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The biggest takeaway from Monday’s release: While consumer perception of senior living has taken a hit due to Covid-19, the majority of prospective residents and their loved ones have not measurably changed their opinions of senior living communities. That’s despite months of negative headlines and stories about outbreaks at senior housing and care communities.

The results reinforce the notion that prospective residents and their loved ones still are interested in senior living even as the pandemic drags on, according to Kristen Paris, vice president of market research at ProMatura Group and the survey’s principal investigator.

“I think the biggest takeaway is that the outlook for the industry is not nearly as grim as some may have thought,” Paris told Senior Housing News. “Our results are what I describe as cautiously optimistic.”

Most senior living prospects who responded to the survey reported no change in their opinion of senior living communities since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. For respondents in that group, 60% reported no change of opinion toward independent living communities, with a similar sentiment for assisted living communities (60%) and memory care communities (72%). Among the prospects’ adult children, 55% said their opinion of independent living had not changed, while 53% said the same about assisted living and 73% for memory care.

For prospective residents or adult children whose opinion did change, most had a more negative opinion than before the pandemic. Among prospective residents, 35% had a more negative opinion of independent living, while 38% said the same about assisted living and 27% said the same regarding memory care communities.

On the other hand, that did not translate into a large decline among respondents’ likelihood to move into a senior living community.

Before Covid-19, 40% of prospective residents in the lead list group said they would “very likely” move into an independent living community, with 30% saying the same about assisted living and 50% saying the same about memory care. In results taken after Covid-19, 35% of prospective residents were very likely to move into independent living, 35% said the same about assisted living and 33% said the same for memory care.

“The hottest prospects, they are still planning to move,” Paris said. “People who were less likely to move, those are the folks that are going to probably table their decision for a little bit and wait and see how things go.”

What consumers want

The survey also shed light on what senior living sales prospects might look for in a community before committing to a move.

Prospective residents and their loved ones interested in all three product types said that cleaning and disinfecting programs, along with Covid-19 testing with rapid results, are essential. And more than half the respondents who are looking for an assisted living or memory care community said that having a primary care physician available on-site or via telehealth was essential.

The survey also asked respondents open-ended questions about what has to happen or what they need to know before they can feel confident about moving to a senior living community, and tracked responses mentioned by two or more people.

Among respondents who considered a move into an independent living community in the past year, 62 said they wanted a cure or a vaccine for Covid-19 first, with another 49 who said they would wait until their health or the health of a loved one deteriorates.

Among assisted living prospects who considered moving into a community in the past year, 26 said they would wait for health deterioration, while 13 said they wanted a Covid-19 cure or vaccine. And for memory care residents, 7 said they were waiting for a Covid-19 cure or vaccine, while 6 were waiting for the deterioration of their health or a loved one’s.

No doubt, the senior living industry has come a long way with regard to infection control protocols since the outset of the pandemic. But in order to gain prospective residents’ trust, providers must be willing to share all of what they’ve done so far.

“I think the key is going to be … transparency,” Paris said. “Not only do you need to clean well, but you need to tell people what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.”

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