We won’t really know what it’s like to be old until we get there. What will we see when we look in the mirror? What will the outside world look like to us once our senses have stopped working as they once did?

A recent interactive New York Times article brought some of these ideas to light as they describe the perils of falls for aging adults. Despite failing eyesight and reduced mobility, many aging individuals don’t perceive themselves as very old. Rather than make a change in their lives, they choose to stay in their inconvenient (often dangerous) living situations and in denial. Luckily, there are folks out there who want to help.

The NYT looked at The Sequoias, a senior living community in San Francisco. The Sequoias worked to develop a safe alternative to the home and reduce falls within their own building. They updated their facilities to counteract vision hinderances with lighted walkways, darkly painted toilet seats and highly visible strips on stairs. How did they know where to look for improvements? The designers wore special glasses that simulated yellowing or blurry vision. One even smeared vaseline on glasses to see private rooms as someone who suffered from glaucoma would. By understanding what it was like to see as an aging person sees, The Sequoias was able to provide a better product specific to its customers. But experiencing aging first-hand has other applications, too.

In the UK, workers associated with the National Health Service had the opportunity to wear an “aging suit” as described in an article from The Guardian. The suit, which uses a scientifically-tuned combination of pads, weights, goggles and sound dampeners, simulates some of the physical difficulties common to aging patients. But while the intention of the suit is to build empathy toward older adults, it does not include, as The Guardian article notes, the psychological effects of living in a world where they are marginalized and even made fun or taken advantage of. But it’s a start.

Finally, what does all of this have to do with selling? Should we need to know what our prospects are going through before we start touting the benefits of senior housing?

Absolutely. Sherpa encourages Prospect-Centered Selling, and part of this process is in getting out of the traditional “selling” mode to assume a role of helper, confidant and guide. Once you’ve stated your intentions and put personal ego aside, you can have a meaningful conversation about problems, dissatisfactions and expectations that your prospect likely needs. You can do this by visiting the prospect at their home, seeing how they live and talking to them. In establishing a relationship we discover ways our community can enrich our prospect’s life, but it also builds trust.

Do we need to wear a state-of-the-art suit or distorted glasses to understand what they are going through? Not really. We just need to ask. How does that make you feel? Let them know you want to understand, and they won’t fault you for being curious. Do you think many people ask them how they are feeling and why? By having these difficult conversations, we strengthen our connections and can help move our prospects out of denial and into action. Can you imagine how difficult a change like that must be? What would it take for you to see the benefits of a move?

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