by Kathryn Brod
On the website of Mary’s Woods Retirement Community, Lake Oswego, OR, residents Greg and Evie Hadley wrote about their decision to move into the community. Their move was accompanied by a host of arguments against their decision from their friends, the top 12 of which are detailed in the web post by the couple. Recounting the process, the Hadleys wrote:
Their arguments come at us from many directions.
- “You two are both so young and healthy!”
- “Why would you want to live with a bunch of old people on canes, walkers and scooters?”
- “What did you do with all the lovely things you had in your home?”
- “You’ve given up your shop in the garage, your garden and so much freedom.”
- “Geez—it costs so much money; how can you afford to live there?”
- “Aren’t you giving up a lot of privacy?”
- “Where you live, death is just around every corner.”
- “I don’t want to interact with my neighbors every day.”
- “I can count on my kids to help me out when that may be required.”
- “You’re going to cut yourself off from all your old friends and neighbors.”
- “Eating institutional food every day—I would hate that.”
And then the last, and most dismissive, comment always is:
- “Well, it might be a good idea for you; perhaps we will start to give it some thought in the next few years.”
Click here to read the Hadleys’ entire article, “Making the Retirement Community Decision.”
The Hadleys are not alone. Most if not all of these arguments, are very familiar to residents of CCRCs. The Hadleys provide concise and sometimes humorous rebuttal for each of the arguments above and confirm what senior living providers across the country know: most, if not all, independent living residents are likely to exclaim at some point within their first year of residence, “Why didn’t I/we move in sooner?”
Despite widespread misunderstanding of the value of the CCRC model, people with firsthand knowledge—residents and their families—have very positive attitudes about them, and can be among the CCRCs’ greatest boosters.
Senior living providers are well aware of the need to help educate their markets about the benefits of CCRCs, responding, like the Hadleys, to typical arguments and communicating to the extent possible the satisfaction of those who live in their communities. Research just released by Mather LifeWays, Brecht Associates and Ziegler Investment Banking, National Survey of Family Members of Residents Living in Continuing Care Retirement Communities, should offer encouragement and confidence to senior living providers as they communicate the benefits of the CCRC lifestyle.
This research was conducted with more than 200 not-for-profit CCRCs. Through communication between these CCRCs and their residents’ family members, nearly 3,700 family members across 49 states and the District of Columbia responded to the survey questions and provided a glimpse into their knowledge of and perceptions about CCRCs. The view of CCRCs they provide is very favorable. These family members are very pleased with the services and care CCRCs provide to their family members: 93% agree that CCRCs are providing good services to their family members.
How does this impact their decision-making? Seventy-seven percent would be likely or very likely to consider a CCRC lifestyle for their own future. Their interest in a future CCRC lifestyle for themselves is strongly influenced by their family members’ experiences; 75% of those very likely to select this lifestyle report their family members’ CCRC experiences positively influence their interest to a great extent.
But moving into a CCRC often requires a significant financial investment by a potential resident and often it is his or her home that serves as source of payment. With the ongoing fragility in the U.S. housing market, will future prospective residents have the interest and financial wherewithal to consider an entrance fee option? The study’s findings show that 50% of those likely to consider a CCRC would select an upfront refundable entrance fee with a monthly fee contract and a “Type A,” all-inclusive long-term care option (versus 40% who are currently uncertain). Dan Hermann and Jeffrey Girardi of Ziegler note in their commentary in the research publication: “This is one of several findings from the study that speaks well to the future viability of the CCRC model and, more importantly, the entrance fee financing structure.”
Not surprisingly, the findings emphasize that it is important for CCRCs 1) to market their value and cost, ensuring quality, of course, and 2) to ensure the provision of a health care continuum. Ninety-nine percent of the respondents noted that cost and value of the community was very important to them; 98% noted that the reputation of the CCRC will be important to them in their decision-making. Respondents were also clear that a CCRC’s main attraction is the availability of health care. Health care will likely take many shapes and forms as health care reform unfolds, but the resounding importance of health care (with wellness programs, fitness activities and other such activities also desired) provides clear direction for marketing efforts; the availability of onsite health care was important to 97% of the respondents. The research also offers insights for future design of amenities, programs and services.
At Mather LifeWays we, like other senior living providers, currently market to age- and income-qualified prospects. But we are now actively considering how to capitalize on another key finding of the research: 98% of respondents very likely to consider a CCRC would strongly recommend these communities to others. This means we have, in our residents’ children, advocates of the lifestyle/continuum of care we offer in our communities. We all know that our strongest referral base is our residents. Now we know that perhaps our next strongest referral base is our residents’ children!
The survey probed respondents’ interests in new models of senior housing. Their responses indicate that new models will engage the interest of retirees and their families. Respondents showed the most interest in smart homes and the village models of senior living. While survey findings did not point to the need for adding significant bells and whistles to today’s models of senior living, it will be incumbent upon proactive senior living providers to help shape efficient and effective models of senior living into the future. Providers should take note of the fact that nearly half of all respondents’ greatest concerns regarding retirement relate to staying productive and useful or outliving their savings.
Since respondents very familiar with CCRCs are more likely to strongly agree that good services are provided to their relatives and subsequently would strongly recommend these CCRCs to others, senior living providers should consider how to actively market to these children. As study sponsor Susan Brecht notes, “While the study demonstrates that the CCRC model gets very high marks and interest levels, there is still a huge market of people with no personal exposure to it. This means market education is absolutely necessary. When market studies are being conducted in areas without a significant presence of senior housing, particularly CCRCs, this fact must be acknowledged and addressed.”
Whether the communities are pushing the envelope with new design or whether they resemble the typical CCRC of today, this education can include not only rebuttal to arguments, as so adroitly presented by The Hadleys at Mary’s Woods, but should also include insights from this seminal research into the opinions of the family members of our senior living residents.
NOTE: For more insights into potential implementation techniques, LeadingAge’s PEAK Leadership Summit will offer an educational session highlighting how Mather LifeWays is implementing the results of the family member research in its marketing and strategic initiatives.