Aging Industry Should Know Their Industry

Geriatric research describes older adults aging alone as “hidden in plain sight.” That description is accurate. We are not seen. 

That perception that all older adults are married with children is not. Nor are we divorced with children. Truth is, some of us don’t have offspring at all. 

Maybe some of us have chosen not to marry or stay married.

It’s an inspiring thought that I could change preconcieved ideas and misconceptions. Ha! I have enough trouble keeping mine in check. But I’ll hold that dream.

Where I’d like to see a more advanced concept of older people (also,) is from the service providers and health care professionals who offer solutions to keep us safe, healthy, financially stable, mobile, and independent.

Why It's a Requirement

Several years ago, I started the Elder Orphan Facebook group. We discuss challenges, dreams, wishes, issues, and even fears. The ones that are the toughest are those that leave us vulnerable and at risk.

One big risk is coming home after surgery alone without the support of a person, preferably a family member.

Others challenges are reliable transportation options, affordable housing, paying for healthcare and drugs, and other household expenses.

Here's my experience and those of other's in the aging alone segment:

  • Our doctors and care providers never ask if we have nearby family. (It’s assumed, I suppose.)
  • We’re given medical tests or procedures and given post and pre-op instructions but never told how to prepare if we don’t have someone to check in on us to make sure we have needs met. (Include in pre-op how we should prepare our home for recovery.)
  • Give us options on how to get to the medical center and how to get back home afterwards.
  • Check on us more often than once. We’re alone and want the assurance that someone cares how we’re doing.
  • Help us determine whether the treatment is necessary and be up front about the risks. Give clear instructions on what’s considered an emergency and when to call an ambulance.
  • If you’re selling something, know we don’t trust advertising. There’s so many scams that target seniors.
  • We don’t want to give you our email and phone number because we dn’t know you.
  • We don’t want to be “sold.” Earn my business.
  • We don’t care about features and benefits — show me how it solves my problem.
  • Don’t treat us like children. Show respect.
  • Don’t see us as frail and dependent.
  • Don’t make decisions for us. (We’re capable) Nor do we want to be told what is best for us. (By now, in most cases, we already know — unless we have dementia)

 Things to do:

  • Develop a relationship with us. Get to know “me” first.
  • Show us how you helped others in our situation.
  • Tell us what’s in it for “us.”
  • How does it help “me.” And why should I choose you?
  • See us capable and independent.
  • Include us in the decision. After all, it’s our money.

 Understand your audience

There’s so much to understand about an audience, especially when marketing. Yes, you need to know our age, our budget, and our needs. However, in addition to all that, learn our intrinsic desires and needs. And how we feel about our circumstances. If you can, give options and suggest how we can gain more control.

For example, in a recent poll I asked, “In the next five to ten years, how do you view your quality of life, including your financial well-being, mental and physical health?”

 Quality of Life

  • Forty percent of the 600 surveyed said, it will become somewhat worse, while thirty percent said it will be about the same. And ten percent admit it will be much worse.

 Community Resources

  • Of that same survey, fifty percent are neither satisfied or dissatisfied with their communities’ resources and services. Why? They’ve never used them because they don’t know about them.
  • While the other half have used them and fifty percent of those are satisfied and the remaining half are not.

 As a provider, either for profit or not, I’d want to know why a large number of individuals were not familiar with community resources, whether offered by my company or someone else’s?

And it’s not just the group. I receive countless emails from seniors asking about local resources.

Health Status 

Obviously, health is a top concern. If we don’t have good health, it leads to outlandish risks and issues. Here’s how the group members viewed their health status over the past year.

  • A third of those surveyed believe they have stable health. A third believe its a little worse than normal, and a fifth think it worse than normal.

Affordable Housing Options

  • Forty percent experience very unaffordable housing, twenty-five percent say somewhat affordable and thirty-five percent say somewhat to very unaffordable.

The statistics are meant to give senior service providers a better idea of what individuals living alone are up against so that when developing services, you will have a better understanding of the market. 

The Facebook group has opened my eyes to the hardships of people 55 and over.

I remain hopeful that technology, housing developers and health care providers will evolve and come up with affordable and sound solutions. 

Take these steps:

  1. Look at the broad picture.
  2. Don’t think “disrupt the entire industry,” instead disrupt the thinking.
  3. Focus on building a service that customers want and enjoy. 

In the words of Mark Bonchek (Harvard), “Companies that successfully market and sell innovation can shift how people think not only about their product, but about themselves, the market and the world. Don’t sell a product, sell a whole new way of thinking.”

There is reason for optimism. Research shows that the majority of elders want to stay in the workforce, to travel, to learn new skills, find entertainment, stay fit and to connect.

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