Does the designation “continuing care retirement community” or “life plan community” resonate with today’s seniors — or more importantly — tomorrow’s seniors?

Does it truly represent the vibrant communities we offer?

Our society is rediscovering the fundamental importance of social relationships to our emotional and physical well-being. Buzzwords such as community, neighborhood and engagement resonate with us; we see these terms all around us, from the products we buy to our workplaces and even in our houses of worship.

Community: being in proximity of — and in relationship with — other people.

For some, “community” means a room filled with interesting people you’ve met along the course of life, whereas for others, it’s a tightly knit group of trusted confidants you’ve known for decades. Whatever you prefer, it is the act of social engagement that matters.

This premise truly resonates for all of us at Applewood, an Engaged Living community since 2014, where I serve as executive director. Here, every aspect of our “neighborhood” centers on socialization and the unrivaled value of community. With community comes a diversity of thought, perspective and preference.

These values must translate to the retirement community in order to speak to the needs of our current residents and, more importantly, incoming seniors on the horizon, who soon will be choosing a retirement environment to suit their interests and goals.

Preserving vitality through engagement

First and foremost, it’s critical to understand that these future retirees are not the senior citizens of just a generation ago. They are healthier, more physically active and intellectually engaged.

In addition, I think we all see a growing segment of seniors still actively involved in the workplace — by choice, not by necessity.

“Today’s seniors are healthier, better educated and more productive than ever. The challenge we face is finding ways to harness their talents,” says Richard Johnson, an economist and senior fellow of The Urban Institute in Washington, DC.

Future retirees are not thinking about the potential need for assisted living or other long-term care services. They are traveling, devoting time to wellness, socializing, serving their communities and pursuing personal interests.

Those of us managing senior living communities are challenged to provide the influx of upcoming retirees with a community where they feel intellectually stimulated and engaged.

Still today, we’re challenged by the unending stereotype that the traditional retirement community serves as a placeholder before assisted living, the nursing home or even death. This may surprise you, but we hear this from prospective residents all the time.

The senior survey says…

Results of a survey of seniors and their adult children conducted by Arizona-based advertising agency Zion and Zion suggests that older adults prefer the term “retirement community” over “life plan community,” their second choice, or “life care community.” Adult children, however, prefer “life care community” when given the choice of the three. “Life plan community” came in third place for them.

In my experience working in the Northeast, too, we have not seen the life plan term resonate with seniors or their adult children.

At my New Jersey community, Applewood, we conducted our own resident survey but widened the breadth of terminology to include senior engagement references such as “senior living” and “engaged living.” The results of this survey were shared with residents and management.

Specifically, we asked residents — who ranged in age from 62 to more than 90 years — to define three “senior living” terms related to retirement community living, from a list of 25 terms.

The survey responses, which were the impetus for me to write this commentary, clearly define how a cross-section of seniors perceives these types of retirement community living.

The top three resident responses to each definition are noted in descending order below.

Question: How would you define these types of residential retirement?

  • Continuing care retirement community

When you think of a CCRC, which words best describe your perception of this type of community?


  1. Healthcare
  2. Supportive living
  3. Assisted living
  • Life plan community

When you think of a life plan community, which words best describe your perception of this type of community?


  1. Healthcare
  2. Assisted living
  3. Supportive services
  • Engaged living community

When you think of an ELC, which words best describe your perception of this type of community?


  1. Active
  2. Independent
  3. Social

This survey clearly identifies the need for an innovative shift.

Purpose-driven senior living

How do we dispel this stereotype at Applewood and offer mature adults an engaging neighborhood filled with people who are excited to grab hold of everything life has to offer — and not just killing time until illness and chronic health problems appear? We are setting the stage for residents to easily engage with each other and make the proverbial “third-chapter” the best chapter.

Time and again, seniors tell me they want their lives to have purpose and meaning. They finally have time to make their world a better place for future generations. More often than not, they find meaning in their lives by helping others. Clearly, residents at Applewood are helping guide us through their devotion to giving back to the community by sharing their expertise, their time and their energy.

It’s time to rebrand industry terminology, such as CCRC and life plan community, that focuses primarily on healthcare and the traditional sense of what retirement meant in the past.

What messages are we sending? These terms do not represent the true nature of our communities’ engaged lifestyle, with all the excitement and opportunities we have to offer. 

We know long-term care may be necessary at some point in the future. There is so much life to live before we get there, however. Why not rebrand your community based on its unique attributes rather than defaulting to anachronistic industry terms?

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