Research shows that although the age 65-plus population in the United States is growing rapidly and will continue to do so over the next twenty years and beyond the appetite among older Americans for moving “into” a retirement community remains quite low on a percentage basis. (Approximately 80-90% of older Americans prefer to stay in their own home.) In an effort to increase the penetration rate beyond the single digits, the senior living industry– and the CCRC industry in particular– is putting a great deal of thought into how it can change perceptions and help families better understand the benefits of living in a retirement community.

Before I proceed I want to first be clear that I am not a marketing professional so I cannot speak at great length to the latest trends, research, and analysis relating to older Americans and their perceptions about retirement living. However, in my previous professional career as a financial planner and now as President and Co-Founder of LifeSite Logics I have had a great number of conversations with retirees, their adult children, and representatives of retirement communities about retirement living. Through these conversation there is one thing that really sticks out in my mind that I think contributes in a negative way to older Americans’ perceptions about retirement communities and it is the concept of moving “into” the community.

Think about it for a second. People get put “into” jail. In the Bible the phrase “thrown into” is used over twenty times and none of them are good; i.e. “into the fire,” “into the cistern,” “into the streets.” When I think moving “into” something it gives me the sense that I may not be able to get back out. Anyone who works in the senior living industry has heard someone say, “I don’t want to move ‘into’ a retirement communities” or “I’m not ready to move ‘into’ a retirement community.”

Of course, I could use the phrase in a positive light too. For instance, technically someone might move “into” a new house, but generally people will just say they are moving, or they bought a new house, or they are moving to a new neighborhood. It just has a different feel. Why would the idea of moving to a retirement community, or more specifically a CCRC, be any different? After all, CCRCs offer primarily independent living. Many CCRCs offer completely free-standing homes or villas…and very nice ones at that! Residents can still eat out, shop for groceries, play golf, do yard work, go for walks, and invite family over for the holidays…all the same things they might do if they lived elsewhere. For those who want to stay in their own home, well, it is still their own home; it is a new home with less maintenance requirements, but it is their own home nonetheless.

The thing I keep coming back to is that older Americans who contemplate a retirement community have the sense that instead of simply “moving” they are moving “into” something and this makes them feel uncomfortable or trapped. While this may seem minor we all know that perception can be reality and it seems to me this is often the perception.

So here is the big question…what drives this perception and how can the industry change it? As it relates to CCRCs in particular there could be a variety of reasons such as non-refundable entry fees, or the fact that there is a health facility on site, which, although an added benefit, often causes people to associate the community with a nursing home, and no one wants to get “thrown into” one of those. To be sure there are a number of other reasons as well.

Yet, I believe if the CCRC industry can change this perception it will go a long ways towards getting a higher percentage of older Americans to consider a retirement community. How can this be accomplished? Well, I’ll leave that to the experts!

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