The importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) in residential and elderly care has received a lot of attention in recent years. Even before the pandemic, owners and operators were beginning to realize the effect air quality can have on residents of seniors’ residences.
Although IAQ affects everyone, research shows that older adults are particularly susceptible to health risks associated with poor air quality due to the aging body’s diminishing ability to offset the effects of environmental hazards. Air pollution, which can be two to five times worse indoors than outdoors, can aggravate existing chronic health conditions common in older adults, including asthma, lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and heart disease, in addition to negatively affecting cognition. Ventilation, on the other hand, can have a positive effect on sleep quality.
Before the pandemic, owners and operators of seniors’ residences were already beginning to take action, given the aforementioned effects on the health and quality of life of seniors, even if indoor air quality was not a priority. for potential residents. The pandemic, however, has dramatically increased public awareness of the importance of indoor air quality for the health of at-risk groups, such as the elderly.
Seniors’ residences and care communities, where residents are vulnerable due to age-related changes in immune function, have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, for which transmission is primarily airborne. The results of a survey conducted by the Delos Consumer Insights team in September confirm this increased awareness among the general public. The team surveyed 983 seniors and their families and found that 57% of respondents had a negative view of the health and safety of senior living facilities due to the pandemic and outbreaks in nursing homes. Given that the number of Americans entering nursing homes — part of the long-term care continuum of which seniors’ lives are a part — is projected to grow from 15 million in 2000 to 27 million in 2050, 57% is a considerable amount of potential residents and their families who have negative feelings about living and caring for the elderly due to COVID-19.
When it comes to indoor air quality, 62% of respondents said COVID-19 made them aware of the importance of good indoor air ventilation and filtration, compared to 29% of respondents who said he always thought air filtration was important. The survey also showed that potential residents and their families were likely to consider a community’s indoor air quality mitigation measures in their decision on where to live, 46% of respondents indicating that air purification measures were important factors or even a necessity in deciding where to go. live and 63% of respondents said they would likely or very likely choose one facility over another based on the priority given to air purification.
As one respondent stated, “Air quality is an important part of life, especially for the elderly and the immunocompromised. Any company willing to go the extra mile and make filtration/air quality a priority will always get my respect and consideration before companies that choose not to make it a priority.
Based on the results of the Delos survey, we can conclude that indoor air quality is a much more important consideration for potential residents and their families than it has been in the past. Indeed, the elderly ranked it third among their concerns, behind the quality of care and safety.
So what steps should senior living communities take to help future residents feel more confident about their health and the safety of the facility? From the perspective of future residents, retirement homes need to go beyond HVAC upgrades. Potential residents and their families responded that when it comes to air purifiers, what would contribute the most to their sense of security are the indicators that the air purifiers are working, such as flashing lights or the device which is activated in the presence of pollutants. Respondents also highly ranked other measures, such as receiving alerts when air quality becomes a concern, as well as having air purifiers in their residences/private rooms and also in common areas where residents are likely to congregate.
The survey also showed that potential residents and their families would overwhelmingly choose a seniors’ community that receives third-party health and safety certification over one that does not. These certifications provide external review and validation of a senior community’s operational policies, maintenance protocols, and emergency plans. Among survey respondents, 93% said third-party certification was at least a consideration, and 49% of respondents considered it an important factor in deciding where to live. Sixty-four percent of respondents said they would likely or very likely choose one community over another if they received health security certification.
In addition, some respondents highlighted the concern for the credibility of the third party. As an example, one respondent noted, “Certification from a *respectable* third party tells me that the facility is serious about providing decent care”.
As the Delos survey suggests, consumers are very concerned about indoor air quality and they are unlikely to disappear any time soon. The pandemic has highlighted an important aspect of indoor environments that was previously not as well understood by the general public as it was by the scientific community. Now is the time to listen to the concerns of potential residents and their families and take action to provide a safer, healthier living environment and increase consumer confidence.
Carolina Campanella, Ph.D., is a vice president at Delos Labs, specializing in behavioral sciences. She works with research and development, product and marketing teams to collect and analyze behavioral, marketing and UX information. Campanella is an expert in well-being and productivity.
The opinions expressed in each McKnight Senior Residence marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight Senior Residence.
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