As the pandemic highlights the detriments of social isolation in senior living, a new market report finds that operators who wish to stand out from the competition should focus on tailored, purposeful and personalized resident engagement.

“Bridging the Loneliness Gap” is based on three surveys conducted by Sage Growth Partners for Denver-based iN2L, a digital engagement provider in the senior living market. The online surveys of senior living community leaders, residents of assisted living and continuing care retirement communities, and family members looked at the experiences of these groups before and during the pandemic.  

Almost three-fourths (73%) of residents and 78% of family members said that tailored activities are “essential” or “very important” to their wellbeing. The survey found that 92% of community leaders said using residents’ interest to personalize care is important to recruitment, but during the pandemic, 62% of communities reported being less able to create tailored engagement activities for residents, with a third (33%) saying that it’s even feasible.

Two in five operators stated that giving residents the ability to digitally connect with one another is of “average or little importance.”

iN2L CEO Lisa Taylor said that these leaders may not yet have made the connection between providing technology-enabled connection opportunities for residents and how technology can support thriving friendships within a community. The ability for communities to cultivate residents’ friendships and provide personalized engagement are two key issues that, although not new, have been exacerbated by the pandemic, she said.

“What’s really important for community leaders to know is resident families are very clear when they state their overall satisfaction with a senior living community really hinges on that community’s ability to have relationship building and meaningful engagement,” Taylor said. “That’s something that is not going to go away. In 2021, we’re going to see lifestyle communities begin to focus on how to differentiate themselves in a much tighter competitive market than we’ve seen before.”

She said communities will need to deliver “proof points” on how they are engaging residents and providing personalized care.

Pandemic loneliness

Before the pandemic, 39% of residents said that they often were or always lonely, compared with only 1% of senior living community leaders who estimated loneliness in residents, according to the survey results. During the pandemic, the survey saw a 230% spike in residents reporting always feeling lonely compared with before the pandemic.

“The huge divide between what community leaders are observing and what residents and their families report presents a tremendous opportunity,” said Karen O’Hern, iN2L’s vice president of product management. “You can’t address what you can’t see.”

Forty-two percent of family members reported being very satisfied with staff knowledge of their loved one. And 24% of family members gave top marks to a community’s use of resident information to tailor activities and create individualized care for residents.

In the past 30 to 60 days, Taylor said, she has seen communities using digital technology to create small group engagement around residents’ common interests.

“The key and glue holding that together is key to connecting them through technology and differentiating care and engagement that is meaningful to them,” she said.