The COVID-19 pandemic has passed the one-year mark. And since last spring, seniors have had to navigate a number of challenges.
That’s according to a recent survey from home care franchise company Senior Helpers.
Released late last week, the survey examines the feelings and behaviors of older adults — ages 65 and up — since the start of the public health emergency. It includes responses from 1,000 seniors.
In putting the survey together, Senior Helpers connected with a large pool of seniors that didn’t include clients, according to co-founder and CEO Peter Ross.
“We wanted to better understand the impact of the pandemic from our biggest stakeholder, our seniors,” Ross told Home Health Care News. “We wanted to make sure we were providing the right level of services to meet the needs of seniors now and in the future.”
Maryland-based Senior Helpers is a home care franchise with over 320 locations worldwide.
One key finding from the survey was that 60% of seniors feel less connected with family and friends since the beginning of the public health emergency.
While social distancing measures have kept seniors safe amid the COVID-19 emergency, they have also likely contributed to loneliness — something proven to have adverse impacts on one’s overall health.
In fact, some experts have even compared the body’s response to loneliness to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Additionally, the Senior Helpers survey found that 42% of seniors experienced depression, anxiety, isolation or other mental health concerns during 2020.
The findings reinforce the home care industry’s role as socialization facilitators, according to Ross.
“We’re in their home, and we’re helping to stave off those feelings of isolation,” he said. “We’ve got a camaraderie. We’ve got a relationship with that senior, so they’re not alone. I think that’s really important, especially during a pandemic.”
Ross has seen the importance of home care’s role reflected in Senior Helpers’ sales performance.
“Our sales performance during — and projected after — the pandemic has been some of the highest growth that Senior Helpers has ever seen,” he said. “In fact, it’s the highest in probably 10 or 15 years. People needed to have someone there because family members couldn’t spend the time and family caregivers couldn’t get access to their loved one.”
Still, for the majority of seniors, this time has served to affirm their feelings of autonomy.
About 88% of seniors consider themselves “just as, if not more, self-sufficient when compared to pre-pandemic times.”
One takeaway for providers is that seniors overwhelmingly want to hold on to their independence. These seniors will likely be open to working with a caregiver at home, as opposed to moving into a nursing home or long-term care facility.
Another key finding was that 45% of seniors have utilized telehealth over the past year.
“I’m sure that telemedicine has grown 200%, 300% or 400% over what it was before the pandemic — it was a lifesaver,” Ross said.
Even before the COVID-19 emergency, Senior Helpers adopted telehealth. The public health emergency has only accelerated its use of such technologies.
“We had to find a way to get seniors to their doctor visits, which we always used to do,” Ross said. “That opened the door to partners like Teladoc Health (Nasdaq: TDOC), where we could work with them to provide a vehicle for them to have a telemedicine visit. We still facilitated that.”
Ross believes the industry will continue to see the embrace of telehealth.
“I think telemedicine use among seniors, and in general, is going to grow significantly,” he said. “I think the pandemic just expedited that. Now you’re seeing [the government] looking at ways to incentivize both providers and also the actual families getting the care.”
Moving forward, Ross says it’s important for Senior Helpers to stay ahead of the curve.
“We’ve always strived to look at where things are going, not where we are,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in industry groups … to understand the trade winds. Whether it’s telehealth or adult day care, I’ve always looked toward things that I felt were opportunities for Senior Helpers.