How Good Are We At Preventing Loneliness?

We sent our first community survey to a carefully chosen CCRC in late January (2016). A cover letter accompanied our one-page survey asking for recipients feedback and opinions. We explained our CCRC journey and promised to keep all answers anonymous. The response was wonderful!  Many respondents added notes and suggestions to their survey responses! Thank you!

Community Survey

Why survey communities and what are we looking to learn?  Our ultimate goal is to understand and define each community’s personality. These are the intangibles you can’t see looking at buildings and financial statements. Students search to select the right college. Retirees need  to find the retirement community that matches their own needs and personality. We want a community that supports and challenges us to be the best possible. Our immediate goal was to test the clarity of the community survey questions. The questions covered a mix of demographic identifiers and opinions. We asked about a resident’s satisfaction with major CCRC benefits or value propositions.

We’ve toured the CCRC we chose for this initial community survey. We have not yet written a CCRC LifeCast review of this community. We used public records to identify residents. More than 25% of the residents initially surveyed responded.

We consider the community survey tool to be “in development” and not a final product. The survey evaluates resident satisfaction with the benefits a great CCRC value should provide. We only surveyed a single CCRC. This means we lack one key piece of information — relative performance to similar communities. For this reason we’re not releasing the name of the CCRC. We don’t yet know if the CCRC’s performance is good, bad, or average.

We surveyed by mail because we thought not all residents would have email.

Here’s what we learned about our survey format.  

  1. Email. We were right. Several respondents told us they did not have or use email. Is this community specific or is no email common among CCRC residents? Our parents were early adopters of email. The internet is an easy way to keep connected with family and friends.  Facebook, Skype and FaceTime often come up in discussions with residents and staff. But the internet is not yet universal for older Americans. We think there’s an opportunity here for CCRCs to innovate. We’d appreciate any insights you have on residents’ use of email and social media.  Usage will change with the incoming Baby Boom cohort. For now, a purely electronic community survey would exclude many current residents.
  2. Management. Management doesn’t like scrutiny. Ideally, a survey would have management’s support and cooperation. Ideally, management should not influence the vote.  A note included in a response informed us management asked that residents not respond. A good share apparently ignored the request. Still, this is a roadblock to good data we’d like to resolve while keeping the data consumer focused. We know that other industries struggle with transparency. The empowered consumer is here to stay with the internet and social media. Smart management will learn to deal with social feedback. Secrecy is not a long term success strategy in an industry that depends upon trust. There are survey tools used by management. Consumers need a community survey providing information for prospective residents and current residents.
  3. Format. The survey format worked well. We used large print and lots of white space. It was a single page, front and back. We offered four (4) response options: strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree. We forced a positive or negative direction by not allowing a neutral choice. There were more things we’d like to ask, but we settled for short and sweet. Both brevity and readability boost the response rate.

We are happy with the survey results.  The results give us a better understanding of the community’s personality. Here’s a summary of what we learned.  

Lonely. All respondents reported being happy most of the time (100%).  Yet, 20% also reported they are often lonely. And 7% are not engaged with other residents and community activities. This surprised us. We believe a primary benefit of a CCRC is the avoidance of being lonely. Respondents who reported being lonely also reported engagement with the community.  Why then are they often lonely?  Is it the level of engagement?  Are community activities offered not satisfying?  Is independent living too independent?  We ask communities’ about their wellness and lifetime learning programs in our reviews.  A common response is, “This is independent living. We can’t force anyone to do anything.”  We fear management and resident groups are confusing outreach with force. Or do these types of community programs not work in offsetting loneliness?   These are questions we plan to explore. We don’t have comparative information for other communities yet.  We expected this community to score high on social engagement, happiness, and loneliness prevention.

Architecture, Food, Management and Financials. The surveyed community is older. It’s current architectural design is not loved by the residents. But several residents point out planned updates and additions. Residents have mixed feelings about the quality of the meals. Respondents generally agreed that their management team and community financials are good to great.  

We’re working on the correlations now. For instance, are younger or older residents more likely to be lonely? Is longevity in the community associated with engagement or other value propositions? Correlations may be either positive or negative. Correlations can tell us if a community is better at different stages of life in a CCRC.

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