What will the world look like when I wake up tomorrow? A lot of us ask ourselves that question daily. What we see in China and other areas of Asia, Europe—most notably Italy—in North America and spreading elsewhere is a prevailing concern for many of us. The novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, is grabbing hold of the global community.
Young, old, healthy, unhealthy: This virus is a threat to us all. It appears particularly dangerous for individuals with underlying health conditions, especially those of advanced age, and for people who are vulnerable, especially those with compromised immune systems. What will tomorrow bring?
Public health leaders are calling on us to “socially distance” ourselves from those we love and know, to avoid groups and to work from home where possible. Lockdowns or other measures are being implemented in towns and cities around the world. Urged to stay apart physically, people are reconnecting with family and friends through video chats and phone calls, emails and social media. They are checking on neighbors and volunteering to help those who are socially isolated or in need. We are seeing the human spirit at work.
It might seem odd to think about preparing for the future in the face of such uncertainty. Not planning, however, will delay our response after this pandemic subsides. With that in mind, here are a few areas to consider.
Reemergence of family. In general, family members are the people we will rely on over these next months. And we will likely emerge from this time with stronger family bonds and a heightened desire to stay connected. Already we see more intergenerational developments in senior living. This shift will pick up speed. The desire will grow for family-oriented activities in seniors centers and fitness clubs, along with a focus on interdependence. In senior living, for example, be prepared to expand access to services—spas, wellness, dining and so on—to the outside community.
Mainstream cohousing. Cohousing could accelerate if the wealth of older adults is diminished. Rather than senior living residents having to move out, how might we adjust our models to build cohousing into business? Could organizations offer a cohousing section within an existing community, for example? Be ready to get creative.
Mental health support. Loss of control. Fear of the unknown. Increases in mental health issues such as anxiety and depression will require robust wellness solutions now and for the foreseeable future. How will you assist your team, residents or members, and family build greater resilience and/or manage mental health issues? (Remember to attend to your own mental health needs as well.) A greater focus on the emotional, spiritual, physical and social wellness dimensions will be key.
Online solutions in disaster plans. The COVID-19 outbreak demonstrates why disaster planning needs to include online solutions for those who are socially isolated. What tools should we have in our toolboxes to help residents and members remain well when they are unable to go out? Virtual reality (VR) is one thing that springs to mind. VR can offer us meditations, prayer sessions, exercise instruction, and the like. If the real world is challenging, VR might transport us to a virtual world that calms the senses and soothes the soul, helping build resilience and strengthen the immune system.
Wellness front and center. While on the rise for years, wellness will catapult forward as residents and members seek to rebuild their capabilities and squeeze every ounce out of life. This is a wakeup call: Life is fleeting and needs to be lived. Expect the desire for well-buildings and a wellness culture to reach an all-time high. Ways to reduce vulnerability will be top of mind for all, as will programs and services that build the immune system.
Safe experiences. With a newfound appreciation for life and a desire to live it, people will crave safe experiences. Now is the time for us to consider how we will provide these experiences in real life, the virtual world and online.
Let’s take comfort in knowing that the human spirit has prevailed over all kinds of tests throughout history. In uncertain times, we must plan for the future even as we manage the present, ensuring that our organizations will also prevail.
Colin Milner, CEO, International Council on Active Aging®