As people age, they naturally need more and more help taking care of themselves, and having someone standing by in case of emergency can be the difference between life and death.

Families may be challenged to adequately care for their loved-ones at home, however, so they often support their decision to move to a life plan community. They even may take an active role in the selection and financial decision-making process.

In making this transition to a senior community, older adults want to retain as much autonomy as possible, whereas their adult children want the peace of mind that comes from knowing their parents are safe and doing well. Family caregivers believe, often incorrectly, that life plan communities (also known as continuing care retirement communities) are keeping an eye on their parents and will contact them with updates. And although senior communities typically have at least one social worker or similar role to provide support when needed, their staffing model is not designed for ongoing daily monitoring and communication.

Until now, most consumer research that benchmarks life plan communities has focused on the perspectives of their residents, and the views of family caregivers have been underappreciated. Yet these family caregivers have great influence on the reputation of a senior living community, which can, in turn, affect admissions and retention as well as how staff members are spending their precious time.

Constance, the company I cofounded to help seniors live independently, recently conducted a comprehensive consumer research study to understand this missing perspective. We surveyed 400 family caregivers to understand their perception of eldercare providers, including frustrations and preferences related to life plan communities. Here is some of what we learned.

The research data reveal that less than half of family caregivers are satisfied with the amount and timeliness of the information they receive from life plan communities. Interestingly, family caregivers are just as concerned with the communication they experience as they are with the quality of care their loved ones receive on a daily basis.

Family caregiver dissatisfaction stems from misaligned expectations. They expect a certain level of communication from staff despite the level of care their loved ones are receiving within the community. And although it may seem unfair, this reality can lead to broader issues:

  • Unhappy families demand more attention —Anxious family members contact staff more frequently, resulting in more follow-ups and, ultimately, higher staffing costs.
  • Negative effect on brand — Unhappy family caregivers are vocal. Just a few poor reviews can result in a bad reputation.
  • Risk of losing residents — Family caregivers have major influence on residents’ decisions to make a change.

With communication playing such an important role for families, managers at life plan communities should pay attention to the risks of overlooking these influential stakeholders.

But as life plan community managers know, constraints caused by workflow gaps and overtaxed resources aren’t easily fixed. The daily activities for staff members generally do not include routine updates to residents’ families and, because staff are stretched thin, any time spent updating families is rushed or requires taking time away from other required tasks.

Fortunately, life plan communities can improve family satisfaction by making just a few changes, including:

  • Set communications protocols — Share information on preferred communication channels (that is, phone, text, emails) and include a regular check-in on those channels into staff members’ workflow, so consistent communication will feel more routine.
  • Create responsiveness standards — Ensure staff members know the specified timeframe that’s expected for a response (for instance, 24 hours), and share these expectations with families.
  • Share proactively — Send information before families ask for it, and include context information in several categories (for instance, scheduled activities and appointments) that gives them the bigger picture.

We created Constance to help seniors live independently by increasing their social engagement, creating reliable communication among caregivers and lowering the cost of care. We are trying to help our life plan community partners improve the quality and efficiency of their communications with insights from our proprietary consumer research (partially funded with a grant from Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a Pennsylvania state venture development agency).