Assisted Living

7/28/2021 | By Kari Smith

With a tumultuous year-plus of the coronavirus taking over the world, particularly affecting the elderly, many wonder: how has COVID affected senior living? We look into ways communities – and the industry as a whole – has changed, and what to expect in the future.

No matter where you are in the world, you were likely affected in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. As restrictions are now being lifted, masks are being removed, and vaccines are being administered; concerns are waning for some, as others cautiously remain dubious.

One demographic that was hit hard was the population of senior living facilities. For those with loved ones in these facilities, the atrocities of COVID on senior populations will not soon be forgotten. News reports with staggering statistics poured in reporting alarming infection rates in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Elderly loved ones tragically died with no one beside them to hold their hands in their last moments. As a result, many unprecedented changes have come from these trying times, to meet these challenges up front.

Disease Prevention and Control

Safety protocols – from the grocery store to medical offices – have, in some cases, moved from haphazard to stringent. Awareness of infectious disease control has increased as masks are still being worn, hand washing and hand sanitizer use have increased, and high-touch areas are cleaned more frequently. This is a positive change, as these additional measures can do nothing but help restrict the spread of not only coronavirus variants, but also other contagious illnesses such as the flu and other infectious diseases.


While changes may be on the horizon, many senior living facilities have restricted visitation of residents. If you are considering assisted living for your senior loved ones, be sure to check out their current policies on visits to residents. Ask about visitation in common areas, dining areas, and resident’s rooms. Changes to visitation policies for existing residents have been a distressing result of the pandemic, with isolation causing depression and other emotional impacts for residents. Local regulations could change these policies at any time.

How Has COVID Affected Senior Living Occupancy Rates?

At the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020, news outlets were quick to report the alarming infection rates and fatalities of COVID patients in some assisted living facilities. Even though these rates did not reflect the numbers of every facility, many are now weighing the additional risk of having their elderly loved one in a senior housing facility.

In some communities, especially memory care and skilled nursing facilities, this means that occupancy is down. Other residents have left facilities for fear of how the disease and its effects have been managed. These changes will likely be temporary as fears regarding the pandemic start to ease, given that our loved ones aging is an inevitability. In some cases, senior loved ones can avoid moving into a facility; however, for some patients, such as those with serious health care or memory care issues, family may not be equipped to provide the care their loved one needs, necessitating residency in a specialized program.

In addition, those interested in residency may face new hurdles. The ability to tour a facility in person before making a decision has for some facilities been traded for a less-than-ideal videoconference tour where prospective residents tour the facility through a phone screen.

Why Senior Living Is Still Safe

Costs Are Up

Many may wonder, “Has COVID affected senior living as far as cost?” Yes – in fact, another reason that occupancy is down is that costs are up. There are many reasons that costs have risen, including additional cleaning and sanitation protocols, janitorial staff, protective gear, testing equipment, as well as additional staff to handle the specialized needs of COVID patients.

In these unprecedented times, it is hard to know if these changes will be permanent. Be sure to ask questions before enrolling your senior loved one in a skilled nursing or assisted living facility, and be patient as guidelines are fluid with changing pandemic conditions.

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith