The Truth About Senior Living Safety and COVID-19


3 min read

The Truth About Senior Living Safety and COVID-19


Senior Health and Wellbeing Assisted Living

The darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic were scary for people the world over, but perhaps none more than those with older loved ones living in a group care setting. Senior care facilities—and the healthcare system as a whole—were ill equipped for the havoc of a highly contagious, novel virus that was especially lethal among the elderly.

Thankfully, a lot has changed in the years since. But many seniors and their families remain understandably concerned about the risk of COVID in a congregate care setting. As with all aspects of the decision to move a loved one into senior living, however, it’s important to know the facts around coronavirus as they stand today.

Some of the data might come as a surprise: Even in 2020, living in a congregate care setting did not necessarily increase the risk of death from COVID. A five-state study from the University of Chicago found the mortality rate at independent living properties was comparable to that of their surrounding counties. Risk increased with the complexity of care required, with the highest rates occurring in memory care and skilled nursing facilities. Yet even among these facilities, 61 percent of memory care properties and 39 percent of skilled nursing properties experienced zero COVID deaths in 2020. At assisted living facilities, two-thirds of the nearly 4,000 properties studied also experienced no COVID deaths in the first year of the pandemic.

In the years since, the advent of COVID testing and vaccines has further improved the coronavirus picture for seniors. Across all variants, vaccination has been associated with a 90 percent reduction in severe COVID outcomes. Recent CDC statistics show that vaccinated adults ages 80 and up are four times less likely to die of COVID than their unvaccinated counterparts, and vaccinated adults ages 65-79 are nine times less likely to die of COVID.

Today it’s also easier than ever to gain a accurate picture of the coronavirus risk at a particular senior care property. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services maintains an up-to-date, searchable database of COVID statistics from thousands of nursing homes nationwide, including current active cases among residents and staff and the percentage of residents and staff who are vaccinated. These figures reflect that fully 86 percent of nursing home residents and staff have now completed a primary vaccination series.

Another way we’ve made strides since 2020? Once again, senior living facilities can safely act as a hub for the kind of social interactions that are so vital to successful aging. A broad social network is linked to lower rates of memory loss, dementia and loneliness, so it’s hard to overestimate the significance that social gatherings and visits from family and friends can have on an aging loved one.

By encouraging testing and vaccination and enacting additional measures such as self-screening upon entry and enhanced cleaning protocols, senior living facilities are seeking a healthy balance between coronavirus vigilance and the irrefutable value of sharing the company of others. While the risk of COVID is still a daily reality for all seniors, residents and their families can feel confident that we’ve come a long way in making senior living safer for our most vulnerable populations.


Contemplating the next chapter in your loved one’s story? Click here to learn more about Bickford Senior Living and to find a branch near you.