“Everyone’s so old over there!”

Has a prospect made a similar complaint about your community? Even though the person speaking those words may have been in denial about getting “old” themselves–whether that meant reduced mobility, fewer social interactions or another sign it’s time for them to consider senior living–there is a growing truth to this preconception. Senior living communities are trending toward older, lower-functioning residents with higher medical needs. In turn, “younger,” more active prospects are choosing to wait until a health issue forces them to make a move.

We’ve mentioned this issue before in a post about “cost creep.” Now Steve Moran has written about the same topic in an article in Senior Housing Forum. He says that increasingly, the senior living prospects we are going after are posing long-term challenges for the industry: “The problem, of course, is that they are typically older, have shorter lengths of stay and are more expensive to care for,” he says. “This is a problem we have created for ourselves but it is not irreversible.”

One solution comes from Sherpa COO Jayne Sallerson who was interviewed for Moran’s article and says that building relationships with a younger mix of prospects can lead to less health care costs and longer lengths of stay down the line. But how do we attract younger prospects with what is becoming an older, less active resident base?

How young can you go? 

An extraordinary example of a much younger-than-usual resident comes from this feel-good CBS News article about Marissa Plank, a 24-year-old resident of a senior living community in Cleveland. As a music student, Plank was offered a free room in the senior community in exchange for performances each month to entertain residents. The resident responses included, “Those young people do a lot for us. They bring us alive.”

Residents want to be around younger people just as communities want younger residents with lower medical costs and higher participation in events and activities. It doesn’t make too much sense to target 24-year-olds, but sales counselors can focus more of their attention on prospects who are generally younger and certainly more active and willing to inspire other residents with their vitality and motivation.

A commenter from the Senior Housing Forum article (the one mentioned above) supports a shift to younger, more active residents through relationship-building: “When you remember this is lifestyle move as much as a medical move and incorporate that into your discovery and presentation you will get more than the health immediate move-ins.”

Develop better relationships, learn about the prospect’s lifestyle and make their involvement with your community more about a lifestyle and less about matching medical needs. Invest in the kind of prospects you want to enrich your community, and the industry as a whole may be able to reverse the trends of higher costs and lower occupancies.

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