At 30, I haven’t yet needed to search for senior housing. I have overheard mystery shops and read statistics on the typical questions asked by sales counselors. “Independent or assisted?” “Are there any medical needs?” These questions, while they do help home in on the product, seem to ask, “are you old enough for senior housing?”
Unfamiliar with the experience of choosing senior housing, let me instead talk about what I do know: buying breakfast cereal. My favorite is the round oat cereal in the yellow box. You know which one. It comes in many flavors, sometimes frosted, sometimes multigrain. I usually go for the the more “grown-up” options.
Recently I decided to do my grocery shopping online and looked for my favorite heart-healthy morning meal. With a little digging, I found the proper category, “children’s cereal.” Children’s cereal? I hesitated. Should I go for oatmeal instead? The cholesterol-lowering studies are printed on the box, so I know there are benefits to older consumers. But there’s an age bias here, one that I felt when ordering from a children’s section. It’s just a label, but nonetheless, it gave me pause. Am I too old for this?
Older prospects have a far more important choice to make when deciding on whether or where to move to senior housing. Yet I imagine a similar age bias looms over their decision. Are they too young to be moving to a place like this? Are the benefits really worth being put into the same category as those with high medical needs and lower daily activity?
As we’ve mentioned before, it would have huge, positive effects on the industry if healthier and more active residents would choose senior housing. But the perception of senior housing as a “final chapter” in someone’s life overshadows what it potentially can offer in terms of socialization, convenience and an active lifestyle.
This is why sales counselors should focus on the beneficial opportunities of their community rather than deciding what category to put their prospects in. Too many mystery shops (in studies conducted by Margaret Wylde with ProMatura, for example) show that focus is almost always on the latter. Wylde also challenges the use of the word “seniors” in the industry. Why do we call someone at 55 the same thing as a 95-year-old?
What I do know is I personally don’t need labels getting between me and a bowl of delicious, healthy breakfast cereal. And prospects in senior housing shouldn’t have to fit a category when looking for a place to live, either.1