Today, people (of all ages) seem very confused by the many terms used to describe the different types of “retirement communities” that exist today. Unfortunately, that confusion is leading to negative perceptions. The senior living industry must do a better job connecting these vibrant, active and energetic communities to the mindset of the seniors who are transitioning into them. Today’s independent living, assisted living and retirement communities are not your grandpa’s senior living facilities!
The negative perceptions are based on the fact that too many seniors don’t understand what the differences between the different types of communities. Many have reported, for example, confusion around the definition of independent living communities and assisted living communities. Instead they see all of these communities (as one senior who was quoted in a September/October 2011 Senior Living Executive article put it) “’as the beginning of the end.’”
Yet many seniors, once they actually visit a community, are thrilled by what they see. But getting them to visit can be difficult due to the fact that confusion and stereotypes reign free. As pointed out by Margaret Wylde, Ph.D., in the Senior Living Executive article, many seniors mistake retirement communities for nursing homes.
What has caused this disconnect? There are several reasons.
As pointed out by Wylde, the senior living industry uses jargon and industry terminology to label and describe a variety of complex products and services. This is common in other industries, but it does alienate potential residents, because they do not understand (and are probably a little scared of) the information that is being conveyed to them.
In addition, Wylde states that the senior living industry uses age as the benchmark to define their product. This negates everything about a person except their chronological age. In much the same way people do not like to be grouped into broad generational categories, they do not want to be forced into a particular community simply based on their age.
All types of senior communities must sell themselves as places where a person can enjoy life to the fullest, regardless of their individual health condition. “Even at advanced stages or when terminally ill, the people I have known have wanted to live until the end,” states Wylde. The trick is to create and define that lifestyle regardless of the condition of one’s health.
To change seniors’ perceptions, a facility should focus on creating a place seniors today want to live – communities that offer a variety of activities in which they want to participate in, when they want to participate in them. Wylde points out that it is important for all types of “retirement communities” to not simply try to fit the resident to the lifestyle of the community.
In order to accomplish this, communities need to train salespeople to be more like lifestyle consultants. Too many communities have their salesmen and women take a short-term sales approach rather than a consultative approach. Listening and focusing on the needs of the potential resident so that they can “make the best decision for him or herself,” will be the most successful long-term.
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