“I didn’t know what I was missing. There’s always something to look forward to.”

“I was reluctant to leave my house, but I’m glad I did.”

“I wish I had moved in years ago.”

The above comments are frequently heard among residents in our senior living communities after they move in, and I am certain that many of my colleagues across the country receive this kind of feedback often, too.

When I hear these comments, that residents’ lives were improved by moving into a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community), I can’t help but imagine the countless additional seniors still living in their homes who really do not know what they are missing.

These all-too-common statements illustrate one of the greatest challenges still facing CCRC providers: overcoming the widespread misconceptions that exist about CCRC living.  

We know it’s a steep hill to climb. Unfortunately, our field continues to face the formidable challenge of correcting misconceptions and educating the public that CCRCs increase the potential for social connections and provide opportunities for personal growth and fulfillment.

CCRC misconceptions

A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Wesley Enhanced Living found:

  • Only 24% of U.S. adults think a CCRC is a better option than aging in their own homes.
  • 85% of U.S. adults believe they can live independently in their own homes for the rest of their lives.
  • Most seniors (86% of those aged at least 65 years) said they would only consider moving to a CCRC if they developed a significant health problem.

As we know, the aging population tends to make decisions due to need and not choice when it comes to CCRCs. Yet one of the main functions of a CCRC is to enhance the lives of independent, active and healthy seniors.

For seniors who live alone in their homes, low social interaction is one of the biggest risk factors to human mortality, according to a 2010 study of social isolation by researchers at Brigham Young University. That study included 148 different studies totaling more than 300,000 participants. Social isolation can have a very serious negative effect on one’s lifespan. In fact, the study found that low social interactions can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and twice as dangerous as obesity.

As CCRC providers know, freed of such demands as housekeeping and home maintenance, our residents can focus on interests that give them a sense of purpose and increased outlets for socialization, whether it’s learning something new, teaching, volunteering, building new relationships, participating in group fitness classes, attending special events or trips or any of the other individual pursuits they may enjoy. Additionally, over the course of a day, the potential for human connections is greatest in the CCRC setting, with residents regularly interacting with dining staff, housekeepers, drivers, maintenance, wellness nurses, salon personnel and administrative staff.  

Correcting misconceptions

We want people to live well, not just age. We want to — no, need to — change the perceptions that keep people from exploring the CCRC as a healthy, positive, viable lifestyle choice.

How can we start? What if CCRC providers pooled some of their marketing dollars and launched a campaign that communicated some of the real benefits of this senior living option? Instead of touting what’s special about our individual buildings and amenities, we could talk about what is unique and life-affirming about the CCRC.

At a minimum, we all individually just need to continue to educate the marketplace more broadly, and frequently. It’s our responsibility. We need to make a commitment to correct these misconceptions so that moving to a CCRC becomes an exciting choice, not a necessity.

Shelley Ballet is senior vice president of marketing and sales for Wesley Enhanced Living. She introduced the enhanced living concept to Evangelical Services for the Aging in 2004, determined to implement a solid stream of branding initiatives to help transform the organization’s network of CCRCs into enhanced living communities. Among her many accomplishments, she worked to rename the century-old organization to Wesley Enhanced Living, creating a repositioning strategy that reimagined the way organizations and individuals view today’s senior population. She holds an MBA in marketing from The City University of New York-Baruch College and an undergraduate degree in psychology from Hofstra University.