An important 'connection' that senior living often overlooks

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

“I don't want to live alone in this place.”

It was an unexpected statement from a close relative. She recently blurted it out when her husband joked about how she might live after his death.

My guess is that her revelation is hardly unique. There are currently millions of elderly married couples living in their houses or apartments across this nation of ours. For the overwhelming majority, the husband will die first. That leaves a lot of widows facing a double whammy: simultaneously losing their closest earthly companion, while inheriting a future alone. To be sure, that is a sad reality few of us would want to contemplate.

But as Mama used to say, it's a pretty bad cloud that doesn't have some sort of silver lining. And if you happen to be looking for residents to fill your senior living community, then this fear could drive a windfall of new occupants. That is, assuming you are in tune with the very real dread many of your prospects are dealing with.

Look, I am not a marketing director for an assisted living or independent living community. But if I were, my message would be simple and direct: Come here so you won't be lonely.

To be sure, many communities sort of imply that when they splash cheerful (and usually unrealistically young and spry) elders on their websites and brochures. But that's really more of an oblique message. What it suggests is that residents are happy. And that's no small consideration. But what many prospects really want to know is that they will not be lonely — or alone.

During an April 12 symposium in Philadelphia, former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy noted that feeling socially connected is critical to a person's emotional well being.

“Connection matters. When we are isolated, when we are subjectively lonely, that actually puts us in a stress state because that's not how our body was built to operate,” Murthy said. “That stress can have a lot of the adverse effects [similar to] stress [coming] from other sources.”

Unfortunately, loneliness has become a more common facet of life in the United States. In the 1980s, one in five adult Americans said they were lonely, he said. Today, the percentage has doubled to 40%. While many of us may have more virtual friends, actual friends apparently are harder to come by.

And that is where your organization can make a difference. Let your prospects know they will be connected in your community, and there's a better chance they'll choose to connect with you.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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