James M. Berklan

I remember a long-ago television pilot where a new police unit discovered an outstanding sharpshooter in the form of a poor country boy. There wasn’t enough money to waste ammunition on missed shots growing up, so T.J. McCabe became an outstanding marksman.

In other words, he didn’t pull the trigger often, but when he did, he made every shot count.

The scene from that television show — the original S.W.A.T. — came to mind when I reflected on the research unveiled Monday at the LeadingAge Leadership Summit conference in Washington. LeadingAge might not spring striking new study results on us all that often, but when it does, look out.

The research into older baby boomers’ housing and care preferences is impactful. It should be able to inform new bargaining and marketing efforts for all kinds of nursing facilities, nonprofit and for-profit alike.

The seminal statistic that is being pumped for all it’s worth is this: About 40% of respondents said that they would want to live in a care facility of some sort if cognitive or dementia problems occurred.

“It’s simply not true that everyone wants to age in their own home,” said Board Chairman Steve Fleming, delivering the money quote. It’s not quite, “’I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me,” ala Sally Field, but it will have to do.

It is true, as LeadingAge Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Janine Finck-Boyle put it, that “nursing homes are not on anyone’s bucket list.” But thanks to this new research, they are at least acknowledged as useful and desirable under certain circumstances for a significant percentage of people.

The findings “blew our minds,” related Ruth Katz, LeadingAge’s senior vice president of public policy/advocacy. She noted that the 1,200 respondents revealed that they are “not afraid” of going into a nursing home. Sure, they want independence and above all don’t want to be a burden to anyone, but the key takeaway, Katz said, is that nursing homes are not viewed universally as the enemy.

The study’s findings into income and social media connectedness might appear obvious at first glance. (Those with more resources are more likely to have cell phones, use the internet and be more comfortable with the aging process.) But digging a little deeper, it also shows “important implications for telemedicine and telehealth,” Fleming pointed out. The fear of facing social isolation and loneliness is real, we were reminded, and both are top indicators of health outcomes.

Majd Alwan, LeadingAge’s senior vice president of technology, noted an “explosion of technology” that is “coming fast and furious” that will keep senior care an interesting place to watch. For seniors, the interet is no longer “nice to have.” Rather, it’s a “utility, like electricity and water,” he told a crowd of nearly 800 conference attendees. That is going to lead to a bandwidth challenge that will only get worse with time, Alwan explained.

Robyn Stone, LeadingAge’s workforce researcher extraordinaire, admitted that “these results changed my view with regards to workforce development.” Demand will continue for some kind of nursing home-like environment, she explained, particularly for dementia care.

She promised that more on the study findings is yet to come, repeating a tease line many of her colleagues also used. They can’t pull the trigger on the release fast enough.

Follow Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.