LeadingAge, the nonprofit organization of aging services providers, has created Opening Doors to Aging Services to change public perception and the lack of understanding about post-acute services.
With older adults expected to make up 20% of the nation's population by 2030, the healthcare sector must prepare for the increasing demand of aging services. The sector must also inform and change public perceptions of aging services, says the director of public messaging for LeadingAge, Gwen Fitzgerald.
Research by LeadingAge, a community of nonprofit aging services providers, has found that the public lacks awareness about the full continuum of care services available to older adults and their families, meaning most U.S. adults think mostly of nursing homes when they think of aging services. To increase understanding of the breadth of aging services, the organization developed the Opening Doors to Aging Services initiative. This initiative offers original research, communications, and campaign resources that helps "reset the narrative" of aging services.
"LeadingAge members and other aging services professionals can access the research, strategies, and communications assets to introduce older adults and families to the array of aging services," Fitzgerald told HealthLeaders.
The initiative's assets are available to providers, agencies, and nursing homes free of charge.
According to an executive research summary authored by LeadingAge, public perceptions of aging services are mixed. Forty-five percent of Americans have a positive view of them, 20% have a negative view, and 35% don't know how they feel.
"That neutral opinion, in our view, is very positive in the aftermath of the early pandemic tidal wave of negative publicity," Fitzgerald said. "In fact, we see an opportunity to inform those who say they don't know, as well as the rest of the general public, about the quality care and services available while the spotlight remains focused on our field."
COVID-19 also had influence in the way aging services—particularly nursing homes—are viewed by the general population. In the first year of the pandemic, nursing homes were subjected to heavy media attention due to the high number of resident deaths and strict social distancing and lockdown guidelines.
However, she says providing authentic information about aging services can boost consumer awareness and confidence about aging services.
"No doubt the one-off, bad apple stories can raise concern for some consumers. But the Opening Doors research provides the road map to resetting the narrative," she continued "[Such as] telling authentic stories about aging services, especially about the quality care and services, the extraordinary professionals who commit themselves to older adults, and the enormous benefits aging services deliver to older adults."
Post-acute workers have an important role to play in helping with public perception and understanding.
"Aging services professionals have an important story to tell: that with extra help from aging services, older adults can keep contributing and enjoy a better life. … It is essential direct care professionals speak out and share the love of their chosen calling and how they make a difference in others' lives," said Fitzgerald.
The research executive summary concludes: "While [aging services are] not well-understood by the general public, the sector has potential for meaningful support, according to research." Through LeadingAge's research they listed five factors that already help the initiative's goal of changing understanding and perception of aging services:
- Those who have experiences within the post-acute sector have had positive experiences
- There is already admiration and support for those who work in the post-acute sector
- The time is ripe for learning about aging services
- The public expects policymakers to invest in and support aging services and the elderly population
- Due to the growing elderly population, there is a spotlight on post-acute care, and the sector can showcase what it has to offer
“Aging services professionals have an important story to tell: that with extra help from aging services, older adults can keep contributing and enjoy a better life.”
Gwen Fitzgerald, director of public messaging, LeadingAge
LeadingAge developed the Opening Doors to Aging Services initiative to "reset the narrative" around aging services.
45% of Americans have a postive view of aging services, 20% have a negative view, and 35% don't know how they feel.