admin, Author at Varsity Branding

Author: admin

The facts are clear: More Baby Boomers are working past what has been traditionally thought of as retirement age. In fact, a recent Pew Research Center study found that Baby Boomers are staying in the labor force at the highest annual rate for people their age in more than half a century.

Why Residents Still Work

We’re also hearing from communities that more residents are still working. That could mean full-time, part-time, freelance, consulting or owning a business. Financial reasons for continuing to stay in the workforce include not wanting to draw on social security and needing to help grown children financially. Some other reasons I’ve heard are nonfinancial. Residents are saying that working does some important things for them, like:

  • Keeps me connected socially to a group of people I have come to appreciate being with
  • Allows me an opportunity to keep my mind focused on something other than “retirement” and “getting old”
  • Stimulates my mind, helps me remain relevant and gives me a sense of purpose
  • Has always been such a significant part of my life — I can’t give it up yet

How Senior Communities Can Attract Them

So, how can senior living communities appeal to residents who are still working? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Evening fitness classes — Whether residents are working from home or going to an office, they may be busy during the day. Traditional classes at 10 or 11 in the morning just won’t work for them. The same goes for gym hours. This innovative wellness program  features a 24-hour gym and flexible class times.
  2. Smart home office design — When a couple I know moved into a retirement community, their apartment came with a small third bedroom. They redid it into an office, adding built-ins to make room for desks and storage, and made much smarter use of the space. Well-designed, highly functional office space that doesn’t need any remodeling to be effective could be a major draw.
  3. Highspeed internet — Wireless internet is the #1 desired amenity in senior living. It is even more important if a resident is working from home.
  4. Co-working spaces — Residents who work at home would appreciate a dedicated co-working space where they could interact with other working residents. Click here to see one example of an amazing co-working space for seniors.
  5. Work-related seminars and groups — Workshops and lectures on topics such as how to start a business or develop an online presence would be attractive to working residents and would help them build a network with their peers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate for the older segment of the population will continue to climb. Why not prepare your community by designing features that appeal to this rapidly growing demographic?



I was fortunate to attend the LeadingAge PA Fellows in Leadership graduation ceremony in Allentown, PA. I came away with some serious leadership envy. It was obvious that during this year-long program, the group had become extremely tight knit and the Fellows had grown very comfortable around one another. You could tell they really appreciated being able to bounce ideas off their new network of peers and having very supportive and approachable leaders within each group.

At one point, there was an exercise where people went around the room and commented on each other’s strengths. They gave thoughtful and sincere answers and you could tell that their words were from the heart.

The sentiments shared at the larger meeting were echoed by two people I spoke with in more depth: Diane Burfeindt, Vice President of Population Health at Presbyterian Senior Living, a coach, and Brian Mailliard, CFO at St. Paul’s Senior Living Community, a Fellow. Both were part of the same small group.

As we discussed the year-long journey, the two remembered back to the first day. At first, Brian was hesitant to try the program. He didn’t know what to expect. “My hesitation went away – day one – minutes into the first session,” he said. “The program changed my whole approach to leadership.”

During the year the group was together, Diane found it interesting that many participants underwent changes and growth in their responsibilities and titles. “Change can be scary, even if it’s a positive thing,” she said.  “Luckily, they had the group to fall back on. Typically, you don’t have people to talk to about work. This was a safe place where people could talk about their challenges.”

Brian seconded that thought. “Before when I would have a difficult situation or tough conversation at work, I felt like I was out on an island — who could I ever talk to that had that experience? Now that we’ve gone through this program, we can pick up the phone and call someone.”

The group plans to keep on being that support system for one another through phone calls and meetings. “One of the most important parts of the leadership academy is what happens after it’s over,” Diane said.

Both Diane and Brian agreed that leadership isn’t a destination, it’s a lifelong journey.

“It continues to remind me every year – leadership is a process and you’re never done,” Diane said. “It’s growth and a part of life – it’s not separate from your personal life. If you think you know it all as a person, then you sort of stagnate. It’s nice to be with the Fellows and the class and get out of your daily routine and remind yourself of that.”

“This program is only one tool,” Brian added. “The biggest realization is that you’ve got to always be working at leadership. Whether it’s reading or conferences or signing up for specific programs — if you don’t make it an intentional part of your career then you’re going to get caught up in the day to day and put it off.”

One of the most fascinating components of the program was the final project each Fellow had to present. Brian completed his on a program called Share Care, an innovative housing solution for low-income seniors. Stay tuned for more details in a guest post from Brian.



One major myth about older adults and technology is that they don’t use it because they don’t understand it. But that idea is as outdated as a flip phone. From social media to online banking, older Americans are adopting tech at the speed of light.

Recent findings by the Link-Age Connect 2019 Technology Survey of Older Adults Age 55-100, also featured in Senior Housing Forum, bear that out. Smartphone use in particular has been skyrocketing. Among people ages 70-74, it shot up from 54 percent to 81 percent. That’s in just the past three years.

Unexpected  Choices

What’s even more surprising than the speed at which older adults are adopting new technologies? The reasons why some are unplugging from tech completely. Or at least using it less. Seniors often make this change, not because they’re confused about technology, but because they’re making a conscious choice to live offline. Here are some of their very smart reasons:

    1. Older adults prefer human connection. As smartphone penetration spikes ever higher in people of all ages, we’re all on our phones, all the time. Even when we get together, we’re logging on to check social media or our daily step count instead of talking to one another. Older Americans have the wisdom of knowing that time on this earth  is precious. It’s important to spend it with family and friends instead of glued to a device. One quote from the study proves the point. “I think technology is taking over people’s lives and it takes away from relationships with people.” – Female, age 95-99.
    2. They’re simplifying their lives. Older adults often have a desire for minimalism that goes hand in hand with human connection. The survey states, “As people age, they simplify their lives, allowing more time for personal interaction and less time for things that ‘busy’ them or take them away from time with family and friends.” Another quote adds,“It isn’t necessarily about teaching older adults to use a technology. It very well could be that they have used it and walked away from it because they do not want it in their lives any longer.”
    3. They’re watching their budget. Those on a fixed income struggle to pay for technology. For instance, only 25% of affordable housing residents have in-home WiFi , compared to 90% of the greater population. Even when older adults can afford to spend more, they follow the principle: “If it works, don’t fix it.”  Sure, marketing campaigns are persuading other generations that they need to spend hundreds on the latest Smartphone. But older Americans often aren’t interested in updating just to get the latest bells and whistles. If it’s a “want” instead of a true need, they’ll keep the device that still works just fine.

 Personality Trumps Age 

The study also found that technology adoption relates more to personality than age. Comments from two different survey participants underscore that point: “I L-O-V-E technology.” – Female, age 84. “I prefer to use it when I want to and not be run by it or tied to it.” – Female, age 95-99. At Varsity, we’ve expressed our opinions before about not lumping everyone 65+ into one category. This new research has driven home, once again, that people of ages need to be seen as individuals — when it comes to technology or anything else.

At the recent LeadingAge CA conference, the buzz was around the changes in how mature consumers are using their homes.  Those changes also mean different expectations for their new residences. Here are three design elements your community must have to attract Boomers:

  1. Space that works

More residents are continuing their careers. Therefore, they desire more usable work and office space. It’s no longer enough to provide the corner of a room for computers. These days, prospective residents are looking for more formal office space and built-in furnishings to support their ongoing careers.

  1. Indoor-outdoor living

Common space for socialization is no longer sufficient. Prospective residents are looking for open floor plans and spaces that transition to outdoor areas. so they can entertain groups of friends and relatives.  A place to party in the privacy of their own space is a common request.

  1. A home with a heart

Along with higher-grade finishes, Boomers want open-concept, larger kitchens and kitchen islands. An open layout can replicate what happens in their own homes, where everyone congregates in the kitchen to socialize.

Architects and marketers are sharing notes in an effort to create more pleasing environments for a younger set of prospects. Although the shift toward younger residents is slow at best, the mindset and expectations of prospects — regardless of age — feels younger.



This past week, I attended the LeadingAge Colorado 2019 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Vail, Colorado. One of my most profound experiences there was hearing a presentation by keynote speaker Jonathan Fanning. In his speech, Fanning challenged us to “happen to the world.” Our speaker’s assumption was that too many of us don’t happen to the world.  Instead, the world happens to us.

To me, his message had personal meaning. You see, in our business, we often allow life to simply happen to us. This is true not only at work, but too often in our personal lives as well. When we allow life to just happen to us, we usually find ourselves in a place where we feel less in control of circumstances. Perhaps, we even feel  victimized by life’s events.

My Early Travels
Fanning’s talk brought me back to a time early in my career, when I had begun traveling for work. Throughout my career, I’ve continued to have many opportunities to travel across the country and the world. (That’s why my agency, Varsity, ended up creating Flat Wayne,  my alter ego, an intrepid traveler who shows up in cities all over and is always the life of the party.)

Today, I’m as gregarious as “Flat Wayne,” but early on, I would spend most nights huddled around my paperwork within the four walls of the hotel. My work was always the most important task for the evenings, along with a lonely dinner.

Thinking Differently
One of my mentors challenged me to think differently about my travel. He tasked me with doing two things: One was to always find something unique about the area I was visiting and to go see that place or event. The other challenge was to never dine alone. Although a bit more difficult, the effort to always find a dinner guest, regardless of the time zone, allowed me to make life happen.

These small changes in my travel habits have helped me foster more meaningful relationships. That  brought me greater work-life balance over time. I now have a greater sense of so many local cultures, and stay in learning mode.

Making Life Happen
Most of us spend so much of our day with activities centered around work. When I learned how to make life happen through intentionally engaging with the people and environments around me, good things happened. I found fulfillment in relationships and learned so much more about the world. Life had more meaning and purpose. I now look forward with anticipation to opportunities to learn during my travels. More importantly, I  connect with people and break bread together. No longer does life just happen. I make it happen.

As leaders in our category, what are we doing daily and weekly to “happen” to our world? What’s our purpose in life? Why are we here? Who matters to us and why?

Finding Meaning 
Wrestling with the above questions, though challenging, can reveal answers that raise incredible considerations for each of us. We can work to promote meaning for our life and for others. Having a clearer understanding of our answers helps us act with more intention. We can control more of what goes on in our lives and how we create opportunity for meaning  purpose for those who’ve entrusted us with their well-being.



I thought I was just flying into Fort Worth, Texas, for another sales conference. Instead, attending the 2019 Greystone Sales Adventure from May 1 to 3 was a life-changing experience that challenged me to look not only at my role in sales, but my whole approach to aging services.

The first tip-off that this wasn’t sales as usual was the conference theme: “Get Down in Funkytown.” It reflected a collective commitment by these senior living sales professionals to get down and be rebellious as they seek to reach consumers who demand more control of their next phase of life. Oh, and it offered lots of opportunities for the participants to get their funk on.

The next clue was the keynote speaker, Lois Kelly, co-author of  Rebels at Work and co-founder of an organization of the same name. The essence of Kelly’s book and the organization she represents is a call for us to push all layers of the organization — regardless of respective role or place of authority — to take responsibility for driving improvement, change and innovation.

Lois challenged us as sales professionals to assume a leadership role in driving change across our organizations. In thinking about the undertaking Lois tasked us with, I’ll be lending ongoing attention to the following questions in collaboration with our clients:

  1. What are we doing as partners to make the status quo unappealing?
  2. How are we helping our teams become more agile and flexible?
  3. To what degree are we maintaining our curiosity? What did we learn today?
  4. Who did we listen to today, and what was their message to us?
  5. Why does the world need us?

One final takeaway: Lois summed up her message to the group by pushing each of us to change the soul of the place in which we work. The challenge is monumental, but the talented group of sales professionals is serious about transforming the field in an effort to serve those yet to be served.





People bring all kinds of stuff to the gym when they work out — water bottles, headphones, yoga mats.

The boxers at the Rock Steady Boxing class for those with Parkinson’s are notable for what they don’t bring: their canes. Many of them have made such great progress, they can walk into the gym without them.

Since April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, I talked to Tammy Smith, a volunteer and co-founder of the Rock Steady Harrisburg Boxing program, held at the West Shore Academy of Martial Arts (WSAMA), right around the corner from the Varsity offices. The program is one of 775 affiliates in the national Rock Steady program, a revolutionary boxing training designed especially for people with Parkinson’s.

The program is driven by a team of volunteers and certified Rock Steady Boxing coaches, including the owner of WSAMA, who are passionate about helping to improve the lives of those living with Parkinson’s disease.

The coaches are proud that many boxers in the early stages of Parkinson’s have improved their balance so much through the program that they are able to walk in without the use of a cane. And, unlike many people who sign up for a gym membership and quit a few weeks later, these boxers have nearly perfect attendance. “They don’t miss a class unless they have a serious reason,” said Smith. “They are literally fighting for their lives.”

She goes on to describe the Rock Steady training. “Boxers do a lot of vocal exercises — the coach has them yell out — which combats the issue of their voices tending to get slow and soft. They do a lot of floor exercises, and they also practice falling. If you have Parkinson’s, you have to be comfortable going to the floor because of balance issues. Our coaches teach them how to fall properly and how to get off the floor if they’ve fallen, as well as how to get off a chair — things that you and I may take for granted.”

The program opened its doors in October 2018, and the results have been phenomenal. “We’ve had a tremendous response,” Smith said. In a few short months, boxers’ accomplishments have included decreasing some of their medications, reducing tremors — especially during certain times of the day — and improving coordination and reaction time. “One boxer was thrilled that he can now put his foot on a chair and tie his shoe,” Smith said.

Then, there are the emotional wins. “The coaches are reporting that people who are close to the boxers have noticed a lot of changes in mood and attitude,” said Smith. “They are no longer embarrassed about their symptoms, which used to make them withdraw. In the class they all have similar symptoms, so they can really be themselves and laugh and let loose. Rock Steady brings them together, motivates them and helps with energy and mobility — it’s a win-win,” she said.

“There’s no cure for Parkinson’s,” she went on. “Rock Steady Boxing can improve quality of life and, in some cases, delay the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. I think people are starting to understand that if you want to fight back against it, this is what you have to do.”

The reason Smith pursued Rock Steady Boxing was her father, who has had Parkinson’s disease for over two decades. “For years, we struggled with any sort of resources for Parkinson’s disease in the area,” Smith said. “It was a huge goal of mine to get Rock Steady Boxing up and going, so I traveled to Indianapolis to become a certified coach and bring home the Rock Steady Harrisburg affiliation.”

Chief and Master Instructor Vince Vergara of the West Shore Academy of Martial Arts and one of his coaches, Allyson Halbach, heard through the grapevine that Smith was already certified and held an affiliation and was looking to sponsor a program for her business— so, the two parties came together.

They began with classes for people in the early stages of Parkinson’s and now have opened classes for people with more advanced symptoms. The program is growing rapidly, partly from physician referrals. Class fees are low and go right back into the program. “Anyone that is thinking about taking a class is welcome to come and observe,” Smith said.

Smith is also involved with the Parkinson’s Foundation, speaks about the benefits of Rock Steady and organizes Parkinson’s-related resources and fundraising events in the area, one of which is the 2nd Annual Knockout PD 5K. She invites everyone to come out to the event on Saturday, April 13, at Masonic Village in Elizabethtown. Learn more about the race here.




Eaton Senior Communities is home to 164 residents and, occasionally, a socially assistive robot called Ryan, now being developed at the University of Denver. In a series of posts, I’m talking to people involved in this fascinating project and getting their perspectives on how this lifelike “companionbot” could benefit seniors living with depression and dementia.

Today, Sarah Schoeder, wellness director at Eaton Senior Communities, shares some of her favorite stories about resident interactions with Ryan.

DW’s Story: Reengaging in the Community

DW struggled with depression after the loss of his wife earlier this year. We no longer saw him smile, and he had begun to isolate, no longer taking meals in our dining room or attending holiday parties. At 93, he had limited access to technology in his lifetime — and certainly not to a robot! What transpired was the old DW returning to us. He smiled and laughed again and was always on time, never missing a session. His daughter was thrilled that her dad was once again engaging in the community, and it lessened the stress she felt when she was away on business. DW will tell you that it “was fun” and that “Ryan helped take my mind off the constant thoughts of my wife. It gave my mind a new direction, you might say,” he said. He felt valued, helping the interns achieve their goals and receiving the opportunity to engage with younger adults.

LW’s Story: Overcoming Depression

LW was another unexpected success. As a younger resident with a higher level of education, I was not sure what to expect. She surprised me when she said that “Ryan understands me; she knows what I am going to say before I do.” LW struggled with depression that was intensified by her recent move to the community. Over the course of the trials, she began to report that moving here had improved her mood, and she looked forward to her sessions with Ryan. She is anxious to further participate in clinical trials and recognizes that Ryan helped her overcome the deep depression she felt earlier this year. I am happy to say that she is now an active community member, participating in many social events and helping her neighbor regain her love of art.

PN’s Story: Making a Friend

PN was thrilled when invited to participate with Ryan. He frequently commented on how beautiful her smile and facial features were. He recalls how he asked her out to dinner, but she declined, saying she was not hungry! PN commented on the variations in facial expressions and quality of speech. He was aware of these features and how it affected his relationship with her. PN looked forward to his interaction with Ryan, and the excitement that followed after his sessions was priceless!

BC’s Story: Seeing His Dream Come True

This resident had studied psychology in the 1950s and had particularly enjoyed the area of artificial intelligence. In his 90s, and highly educated, BC enjoyed seeing the “future” that, years earlier, he could only dream of. After his sessions, he would smile and talk at length about the interactions. It was great to see his mind stimulated and the smile he was well known for return when his health was failing him.

See Ryan from her inventor’s perspective in another blog.




Eaton Senior Communities is home to 164 residents and, occasionally, a breakthrough, socially assistive robot called Ryan — created at the University of Denver — which could soon be available to the general public. In a series of posts, I’m talking to people involved in this fascinating project and getting their perspectives on how this lifelike “companionbot” is helping older adults who are living with depression and dementia.

Today, I’m speaking with Sarah Schoeder, wellness director at Eaton Senior Communities, who is a liaison between the residents and the team of scientists developing Ryan. Sarah has been serving the geriatric community for 38 years, including 20 years as an LPN in a skilled nursing facility.


Wayne: Sarah, what was it like trying to get residents to participate in the robot pilot studies?

Sarah: I would visit them and drop this idea in their lap, and they’d look at me like I was crazy. I’ve approached a lot of residents whom I didn’t expect to get involved — some of them in their 90s. To see them go from giving me a look like, “You’re kidding me” to becoming excited, looking forward to the sessions and wanting to be involved in the next set of trials, it’s been amazing.


Wayne: Did the residents have input about the changes in the robot?

Sarah: Yes, residents would give feedback about what they’d like the robot to look like and sound like — what they’d like it to say. Then, the team would make changes.


Wayne: How has the robot changed over time?

Sarah: Ryan’s facial features appear more natural, and the improvement in the movement of her head has given her a “softer touch.” Her smile is beautiful, and she makes me want to smile back!


Wayne: Were you concerned that residents might not want to finish the project?

Sarah: Yes, but all residents in both trials of 2018 completed all sessions, which spoke highly of the project goals. Some residents were hesitant and perhaps a little fearful, but after spending time with Ryan, their attitudes completely changed. Ryan has touched the lives of Eaton residents by providing unconditional companionship and interest in their lives. The improvement in mood and cognition was apparent as residents were exposed to educational opportunities and stimulating interactions.


Wayne: Does Ryan have a sense of humor?

Sarah: Yes! I’ll give you an example. One resident who was hosting Ryan in her room was walking down the hall, and she said to me, “Can you believe what that crazy thing just said to me?” She went on to say that she and Ryan were talking about how the Denver Broncos were competing against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and Ryan announced that she was a Patriots fan — in the heart of Bronco country!


Wayne: How will this new technology help people age in place?

Sarah: One of the biggest reasons people move into assisted living is that they can’t manage their medicines. If Ryan reminds me to take my medicine, that might be the defining moment that keeps me home.


Wayne: How has this experience changed your views on robotics?

Sarah: If someone told me five years ago that I’d be sitting here telling you robots could be valued members of a health care team — that I’d be endorsing them as part of the health care model — I would not have believed it, but I’ve learned that the robot is not replacing me as a nurse and caregiver. It’s just empowering me to be more successful in senior living.


Sarah will share stories about resident interactions with Ryan in next week’s blog. 

Soon, older adults will have access to a breakthrough new tool to improve their quality of life. Mohammad Mahoor, PhD, director of the computer vision and social robotics laboratory at the University of Denver, has spent the last decade working with his students to create and refine an amazingly lifelike, socially assistive robot named Ryan, which can provide deep social interaction and companionship to people living alone.

Designed to address challenges of aging — like dementia, depression and loneliness — this “companionbot” can recognize faces and emotions, express feelings, hold conversations and remember individual comments for future interactions to build a relationship over time. Ryan’s face is expressive and lifelike; she can turn her head to react to voices and movement, and her torso contains a screen for playing music and games, watching videos, looking at photos and doing other activities. Ryan’s next iteration will also have active arms so she can coach people in light exercises to improve their physical fitness.

In a pilot study, six residents at Eaton Senior Communities in Lakewood, Colorado, had 24/7 access to Ryan in their apartments for a period of 4–6 weeks. Ryan was customized for each participant, with photos for an album, daily schedules, favorite music and topics of interest for YouTube video searches. Participants could call Ryan by the name of their choice.

Observations, interviews and analyses revealed that the residents established rapport with the robot and greatly valued and enjoyed having a companionbot in their apartment. They also believed that the robot helped them maintain their schedule, improved their mood and stimulated them mentally. One user shared that, “She [Ryan] was just enjoyable. We were SAD to see her go.”

After the staff at Eaton Senior Communities told me how thrilled the residents were with their experiences with Ryan, I spoke with Dr. Mahoor about his invention.


 Wayne: Why did you create Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: We wanted to address the needs of older people living with dementia, loneliness and depression. There is a shortage of caregivers, and care is expensive — Ryan is a great form of companionship. She can help seniors lead better lives at home.


Wayne: Can you talk about the testing process?

Dr. Mahoor: The first round of testing, in 2016, was a six-month, piloted study at Eaton Senior Communities. All of the features were not ready, the cognitive games were simple, and the speech recognition had some glitches — but we received very positive feedback. After making changes, we did two more pilot studies this year. One focused on how Ryan can help people with dementia through cognitive behavioral therapy. The second pilot study was totally autonomous. Users had half an hour of interaction with Ryan for 3–4 weeks to test the emotion recognition technology.


Wayne: Were there any surprises when people first began interacting with Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: At first, we had a fear that people wouldn’t like Ryan. But even in the early stages, they reacted very positively. We noticed that the more time they spent talking with Ryan, the more they enjoyed it, and they wanted her to tell them more stories and jokes — even gossip! When we took the robot away from one of the residents, he literally cried. The bond was so strong that he was very sad. It was really surprising for me that a robot could make such a huge impact on people’s lives. I didn’t expect that much of a connection between machine and human.


Wayne: What challenges did you face when test-driving Ryan?
Dr. Mahoor: One of the challenges is that you have to be patient because multiple people cannot talk to Ryan at the same time — you have to take your turn so that she can listen and understand you.


Wayne: What kinds of results have you had?

Dr. Mahoor: When we measured mood and depression before, during and after phase one of our study, we found that Ryan significantly improved users’ moods and lessened their depression.


Wayne: What’s next for Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: We received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for phase one, and now we are in transition to phase two. NIH has approved our next grant from a scientific perspective. Now it just needs to approve the budget. Phase two would be a grant of over a million dollars to help us study Ryan’s impact on the progression of dementia.


Wayne: How unique is Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: There are other robots out there, but this is the first one developed with features customized to help with depression and dementia through social conversations, games and other interactions.


Wayne: When will Ryan be available on the market?

Dr. Mahoor: We are very close; I’m hoping by the end of the year. We’ve started working with investors to begin production. Users love Ryan, the feedback has been positive, and we’ve made improvements. It’s time to go to market to fulfill our mission of helping the health care industry.


Wayne: How much will she cost?

Dr. Mahoor: Manufacturing each Ryan costs thousands, so to make her more cost-effective, we have a subscription-leasing plan in mind. The cost would be about $400 per month for individuals, but if a corporation wanted to lease multiple Ryans, the rate would adjust. One Ryan can be reprogrammed to serve multiple residents.


Wayne: What would you say to people who worry that robots will take over the world?

Dr. Mahoor: Ryan is going to complement the time and support of caregivers and help make their lives easier — not take over and replace them.


Wayne: Are you surprised at where you are today?

Dr. Mahoor: Yes. When we first started several years ago, I didn’t think we’d be in a position to commercialize the invention; I didn’t think we’d be a startup meeting with investors. I’m so happy about our progress. For us to be in a position to bring a robot to market that’s going to improve health care and impact people’s lives for the better is amazing.


Learn more about Dr. Mahoor’s companionbot, Ryan, at



Eaton Senior Communities is home to 164 residents and, occasionally, a socially assistive robot called Ryan, now being developed at the University of Denver. In a series of posts, I’m talking to people involved in this fascinating project and getting their perspectives on how this lifelike “companionbot” may transform the lives of seniors living with depression and dementia.

Today, I’m talking to Diana Delgado, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Eaton Senior Communities.


Wayne: How did the robot pilot study come about?

Diana: Back in 2014, we received an inquiry through our Contact Us page. It came from the assistant of Mohammad Mahoor, PhD, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Denver, reaching out to senior housing communities to see if any would be interested in a pilot project for companion robots for the elderly. We were the only senior living community that responded to his request, and in the beginning, Eaton was the sole pilot project site.


Wayne: Why do you think you were the only community to respond?

Diana: I know that, at most communities, we all get bombarded with spam emails. You tend to just hit the delete button. Our community is good at reading emails, and we thought, “Should we at least explore it a little?” When we heard more about it, we thought it was a very innovative idea and that our residents would be interested in it — and they are!


Wayne: What surprised you about the residents’ reaction to the project?

Diana: We didn’t expect people to bond with the robot, but they did. Our residents were not only excited to be part of creating this whole project, but they expressed that they missed the robot when it was removed. That just goes to show how open-minded people of any age can be when embracing new technology.


Wayne: Was Ryan the same for each resident?

Diane: No. What was nice is that the team customized the robot to the resident. Family pictures and favorite movies were uploaded that they could watch on a screen on the robot’s torso. One resident liked cooking shows, so they were included in her case. Ryan could give reminders to take medications, play games, make conversation; she was truly a companion. The residents could also name the robot whatever they wanted, and it was unisex, so they could make it a male or a female. One man named it after his wife, Annie. Another woman named hers “Isabelle.” One woman wanted it to be a man, whom she called “Jasper,” because she said women were too hard to live with. Each of them got to add little personal touches, like a scarf or a hat. They felt like the robot was a friend.


Wayne: How does Ryan help people with memory issues?

Diana: If residents have short-term memory issues and forget that they’ve said something, Ryan can remind them that they’ve already said that — it’s a way to propel the conversation forward so they don’t get fixated on that one question.


Wayne: How can Ryan help caregivers?

Diana: Ryan can give caregivers time to take care of their own needs. We’ve had one instance with a sister of a resident who felt that she could take an extra hour to do her errands and not feel so guilty because she’s seen the positive impact that Ryan has been making in her brother’s life.


Wayne: From your perspective, what was the value in having the robots at Eaton?

Diana: The team listened to what residents had to say and improved robot interactions based on that. Residents gave input about some of the facial expressions, the hair, the voice. They see real value in being heard and being listened to — they love that they’re contributing to the future of robotics.


Wayne: What qualities does a community need in order to take part in projects

like these?

Diana: It has to be able to embrace some innovative ideas. I guess I would say I attribute our participation to a culture of curiosity.

Stay tuned for more posts about Ryan, the companionbot. 



Now that the holidays are over, my resolution to spend less money on gifts next year is in full swing. It’s not surprising that  a recent survey tells us that shoppers spent more than $850 million — a 5.1 percent increase in holiday spending from 2017. One of the most-talked-about best sellers was the smart speaker: For the third straight year, Amazon’s best-selling product was the affordable Echo Dot. Interestingly, several commercials depicted Boomer and senior parents using smart speakers to connect with their children and grandchildren — like this spot about a grandmother connecting with her family, and this one, featuring a daughter interacting with her dad as she cooks.

When it came time to buy my Boomer mom a gift, I fell for the marketing hype myself. I know Mom loves listening to music in the kitchen, and seeing her old-school boom box made me think it was time for an upgrade. I got her the Amazon Echo Dot, influenced by the commercials that made using it seem so easy. Although my mother is quite averse to technology, I had a hunch she’d be comfortable with the Dot. I was right. Once I got her set up with it, she loved it. “It’s so easy to use — you just talk to it!” Mom said.

I caught up with Mom again after the holidays to see if her experience was still going well and asked her how she was using the gift. “Right now, just for music,” she said. (Mom likes to listen to country songs while she’s cooking.) “But sometimes I ask Alexa what the weather is.”

“What do you like best about the Dot?” I asked. “The ease of using it,” my mom said. “It’s hands-free. I can change volume, change music, easily. I don’t have to yell. I just talk, and she listens.”

One of my co-workers’ parents also got a smart speaker system for Christmas. Her report? Her parents like having it play music but don’t see it playing a large role in their lives. “My dad may ask about the weather, but he still goes into the kitchen to watch the weather on TV,” my co-worker said. “He’s not going to say ‘turn on the lights.’ He’s going to flip a switch.”

My mom is a little more adventurous. Although she’s sticking to music and weather for now, she said that she’s interested in using the Echo Dot for other home tasks as well. “If I had the hook up, I would use it to work lighting for more efficiency,” she told me. “I’d also like to use it to put the garage door up and down.”

I’m glad that my mom’s getting comfortable with voice assistance now — in case she needs more help later to make her life easier and safer, whether that means turning on lights in the middle of the night or saying, “Call 911” to summon help in an emergency.

According to this recent survey of industry leaders, the trend to voice will move forward faster than we can imagine. If, in turn, that can give older adults more of a voice in their lives, I think that’s a good thing.




Last year, a piece I wrote regarding substance use and abuse in the senior population was published at McKnight’s Senior Living.

The response was so overwhelming that we’ve continued the dialogue with a second McKnight’s Senior Living article, with hopes that further conversations will be inspired around this growing challenge for older adults. To read it, click here.





Once in awhile at Varsity, we view current entertainment through the filter of aging services marketing. This past weekend, I binged out on “The Kominsky Method,” a trending Netflix series starring Michael Douglas as Sandy Kominsky, a former Hollywood A-lister turned acting coach, and Alan Arkin as Sandy’s longtime agent and best friend Norman Newlander. Produced by sitcom sultan Chuck Lorre (“Two and a Half Men”), the show also features a star-studded cast, including regulars Danny DeVito, Nancy Travis and Lisa Edelstein, with guest appearances by Jay Leno, Ann-Margret and Patti Labelle.

The eight episodes I watched dealt with death, drug addiction, ageism and cancer and still managed to be laugh-out-loud funny — at least I thought so.

One reviewer wasn’t so enamored of the show. He thought the jokes were tired and that there was too much focus on peeing habits. Sandy’s need for frequent urination, including watering the hedge in his date’s yard, dominates more than one episode.

The reviewer makes a valid point, although for me, the humor somehow works. The portrait of Michael Douglas’ character with an enlarged prostate is a refreshing contrast to the usual list of invincible aging male stars jumping from planes in action movies.

One mystery the show did clear up for me is why some men I know frequently pee in hedges and bushes, as well as behind large trucks in parking lots. I always thought it was a macho need to “mark your territory,” but it turns out that it’s just a male health condition that worsens with age.

During the hedge scene, I picked up the phone and called my Uncle Tony (who has been dealing with a slow-growing prostate cancer) and asked him to tune in and give his opinion. He binged through all eight episodes. My uncle’s favorite part? Sandy and his lack of steady flow had him laughing out loud.

Beyond the humor, Uncle Tony explained, it was great to see an important subject being given prominent attention. In a lighthearted way, the show drives home the point that even famous people aren’t immune to this health issue, which impacts 50 percent of men over 50 and 90 percent of men over 80 and can be associated with prostate cancer. Every time the great Sandy Kominsky makes another trip to the bathroom, it underscores the need for diagnosis and treatment of prostate conditions. Sandy’s reluctant visit to his urologist is funny, of course (imagine a white-coated Danny DeVito wielding the power of a rubber glove), but a more serious message clearly comes through: If you’re having symptoms, get checked.

Other serious themes are also cloaked in humor, including the ever-prevalent issue of ageism. One example: Norman’s assistant comments that it’s great for him to be back at his job running a talent agency after his wife’s death, comparing him to her grandpa, who keeps his mind active by doing the daily crossword.

In spite of the stereotypical perceptions of those around them, the older characters forge ahead as contributing, working members of society — even if they’re sometimes reduced from their former glory. (For instance, Elliott Gould, in a hilarious guest turn as an erstwhile movie icon, accepts a cheesy commercial hawking reverse mortgages.)

Whether you find the humor funny or not, “The Kominsky Method” definitely takes on some important issues. Is a season two renewal in its future? Stay tuned! In the meantime, you can learn more about prostate cancer detection and treatment by visiting the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

We’re willing to bet that, if you were to ask the residents of most retirement communities about their biggest disappointment at their community, it would probably boil down to one of two things: the communication or the food. Aging services providers have been working to get better at both of these challenges, but food continues to be a perennial gripe for residents. Interestingly, this challenge isn’t just being felt in the senior living space. Recognizing that Baby Boomers are in control of an incredible amount of expendable income, all kinds of foodservice providers are pivoting their models to appeal to America’s wealthiest generation.

This has caused some restaurant owners to start thinking like aging services groups by changing their culture and advertising to become more appealing to the aging Boomer set. They’ve quickly learned that “senior” discounts and references to age are turnoffs. Instead, they’ve caught on to key Boomer trends, such as healthy menu options, new takes on old favorites and interactive experiences, such as cooking classes and wine pairing dinners. In a recent article in Restaurant Business Magazine, it was reported that 44 percent of Boomers prefer a restaurant with a mix of both familiar and new foods. The article goes on to suggest pairing familiar proteins with more adventurous side dishes to create a happy medium.

Yet, for all of the adventurousness that some Boomers may be embracing, there is still one core belief of Boomer diners: the need for value. Sixty-three percent of Boomers say it is an important factor, with 55 percent saying that low prices are key. In the real world, this often manifests as the repeat customer with a consistent order. If Jack knows that he likes a specific dish, and he feels it is a good value for the price, he may settle into a rhythm of ordering it over and over again. Sure, the repeat business is great, but Jack isn’t likely to try anything new on the menu. This puts operators in a bind — do you change the menu up to attract new customers, or do you keep it the same to ensure repeat business? This usually boils down to a personal choice for the operators.

Within the senior living space, we see similar challenges as these. Some residents desire more variety in the meals offered, while others are unhappy that their favorite menu item has been taken out of rotation. Marketers that are looking to attract younger residents want to show off innovative, gourmet dining techniques; meanwhile, older residents just want their comfort food favorites on the menu. Culinary service employees in senior living find themselves stuck between this rock and a hard place, trying to create menus that are appealing to everyone, while still being innovative and flavorful — all within budget considerations. It’s a different challenge than most restauranteurs usually face!

In recognition of this challenge, a new association was recently formed. The Senior Dining Association (SDA) is the first organization focused specifically on serving older adults, both at public venues and in residential communities. Of course, every good association needs a conference and expo, so the SDA will be hosting its first-ever such event, March 17 to 20, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The event purports to bring together experts in senior dining and culinary experiences, with workshops, demonstrations, product innovations and, of course, lots of free samples!

Food is integral to daily life for residents of aging services providers. Foodservice teams are given a double challenge of not only keeping up with the trends of food in society, but also finding a way to adapt those trends to their residents and communities. At Varsity, we’re excited to see how the greater community is taking notice of the purchasing power of Boomers. In that same vein, we’re also looking forward to seeing what kind of impact a new professional organization will have on our space.

Either way, we know there will be tasty results!


During 2018, we have undertaken an ongoing blog series in which we take a look at the opportunities and challenges faced by the diverse groups of Boomers and seniors being served by today’s aging services providers.

For our first article in the series, we examined a rapidly growing population in the United States — Latino Boomers and seniors. In our second article, we looked at the changes that LGBT seniors are driving in the marketplace. For our third piece, we talked about America’s largest-growing ethnic demographic: Asians.

Now, for our final article in this series, Wayne Langley is considering the challenges faced by African-American seniors in today’s society.

Over the last decade, the African-American population in the United States has celebrated some amazing strides, while also being forced to come to grips with incredible lows. From the high of electing an African-American president, to facing racial violence in American cities, to challenging relationships with the police force, African-Americans are still struggling for equality in many ways. Unfortunately, one of the areas of continued inequality is income while aging.

In January of this year, Bloomberg published a report about the retirement crisis facing African-Americans. Its analysis showed that the average Caucasian family has more than $130,000 in liquid retirement savings, such as cash, retirement savings accounts and IRAs. Startlingly, the average African-American family has less than one-sixth of that amount saved (or about $19,000) — and this isn’t a new trend. The racial wealth gap has been growing since at least the 1960s and isn’t showing any signs of slowing. As retirement living options become increasingly more expensive — and more luxury-focused — the ability of African-Americans to move into such residences is slimming.

Ashton Verdery and Rachel Margolis studied some of the risk factors facing African-Americans in retirement. They published their findings in October 2017, and the outlook was grim. Their report notes that African-Americans have a much higher instance of life-altering illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. Obviously, this leads to the need for increased acute care as this population ages. Within the African-American community, it can be a cultural expectation that family members will step up to the plate and help take care of aging relatives; however, there is an increasing trend in older African-Americans aging without any relatives to provide this support, especially in light of the trend of “grey divorce,” which has steeper rates of occurrence in the African-American demographic.

Verdery’s report specifically touches on the implications for long-term care based on the findings. “Having family members come in and check, or someone double-checking what doctors are doing, is a beneficial thing,” says Verdery. “We may need to have more programs that check on people, particularly those without family.” As aging services marketers and providers, we know the importance of an involved family; not only do they help loved ones make good decisions, but they also act as watchdogs to ensure that proper care standards are being maintained. Without a family member or advocate network, aging African-Americans could be at greater risk for neglect.

Another point relating to aging African-Americans and retirement living is the rate of homeownership. The Washington Post reported that the rates of African-Americans who own their own home are at the lowest in recent memory. In fact, in 2015, the rate of African-American homeownership was the same as it was nearly 50 years earlier! In our space, it is common knowledge that most potential residents will need to leverage the sale of their home to be able to afford to make the move to a Life Plan Community. If one doesn’t own a home, a Life Plan Community could be terribly far out of reach.

Aging services providers who value diversity and inclusion may need to rethink some of their financial models if they want to appeal to and include a larger African-American population in their communities. Certainly, this is going to be a vibrant market in the coming years, and the provider that figures out how to best serve it could stand to reap major rewards. Yet our fear is that unscrupulous organizations, aiming to make a quick dollar, will look to provide seemingly affordable solutions that fail to cover the minimum standards. This, in turn, could lead to African-American seniors being placed into an especially precarious position as they age.


“The Cool Kids,” a new sitcom on FOX, stars an ensemble cast of characters residing at Shady Meadows Retirement Community. The official, published premise of the show is “Three guy friends in a retirement community are the top dogs until they’re blown out of the water by the newest member of the community, a female rebel who’s ready to challenge their place — it’s high school with 70 somethings.” As an aging services marketer, this show was sure to catch my eye. Recently, I sat down and binged the first several episodes, looking at it from not just an entertainment perspective, but also in light of my experiences with senior living.

The show’s cast includes some well-known comedic actors — David Alan Grier, Martin Mull, Leslie Jordan and Vicki Lawrence. Even the team members of the community are well-cast, including Artemis Pebdani as Allison, the community’s executive director, and Charlie Day as Chet, one of the maintenance technicians. This gave me high hopes for a funny, insightful show about life in a senior living community. After watching the first three episodes, I’m staying positive but am also mildly perturbed.

Let’s start with the positives. The program does have some pretty funny moments, showing just how unique and interesting life at a community can be. It does a good job of capturing some of the internal politics that occur when people live in such close proximity. Sure, there are some of the expected jokes, but if you look beyond the low-hanging fruit of easy laughs, the show has the potential to poke some good-hearted fun at the world of aging services. Unfortunately, the reliance on the easy laughs is where the writing takes a nosedive.

The first few episodes contain nearly every “old person” comedy trope in the books, up to and including the urn of a deceased friend falling, breaking and spreading ashes everywhere. There are many references to senior sexuality, making the male characters seem like lechers. Meanwhile, when Margaret shows signs of sexuality, she’s immediately shut down because of being “too old.” Of course, there are jokes about medications, aging in general and life in the community. I was especially disappointed in the portrayal of the community’s management as being iron-fisted and deaf to the needs of the residents. This isn’t the kind of portrayal aging services professionals need.

In the end, the show has some real potential, but the writing and direction of the early episodes rely too heavily on expected comedy. The characters aren’t shown as well-rounded people; rather, they’re given singular motivations that vary only a little with each episode. I could easily see how this show could become something special and unique, like “The Office” was for corporate America or “Parks & Recreation” was for public servants. But until the writers, directors and producers take a fresh look at aging, the show is going to be doomed for its use of age-old gags that haven’t aged well at all.

It’s summertime. You’re visiting your favorite community pool or, perhaps, a waterpark. You choose to take your family to these places because they have trained, supervised lifeguards. Sure, sometimes they are a little young, but it’s an extra layer of safety. As you dip your toe into the water, you look up to the lifeguard’s tower where you find a surprise waiting for you: In the chair, where you would normally find a tanned and lean teen or 20-something sits a woman who could easily be your own mother. She’s obviously in good shape and is keeping an eye on the water, ignoring the shocked look that you surely have on your face.

Water recreation centers around the country are embracing the “grey wave” that has come into their labor force.

A recent article from the Washington Post provides some excellent insight on this topic, but the facts it cites shouldn’t be a surprise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer teenagers are seeking employment, with only 35 percent of people 16 to 19 holding down a job. That’s down from 52 percent only 20 years ago. The jobs that have been traditionally held by teens are now being subsumed by adult workers — whether they are just trying to make ends meet or are looking for a little extra cash on the side.

If you look at the challenge from the employer side, hiring older adults to fill these positions makes good business sense. They are generally more reliable. They usually have their own transportation. They can work through a whole summer season and don’t need to quit early to return to school. Swimming is also a popular exercise method for older adults, as it is easier on the joints. This means that many older adults are capable swimmers, making them prime candidates for lifeguarding roles. This change from teens to seniors in water safety roles serves as an interesting example of how the labor market is adapting.

Today, teens and 20-somethings are being pulled in many different directions. Where once they were expected to hold down a job, now schools and recruiters are looking for a more diverse extracurricular portfolio. Sure, having a part-time job is important, but don’t forget to play at least one (if not more) sports, participate in student government, engage in some kind of educational activity (such as tutoring younger students) and more. All of these extra activities add up, leaving the student workforce both harder to engage and harder to rely on during peak times.

This is where the older adult workforce is really finding a niche. As younger workers choose to concentrate on schooling or career-building, entry-level service jobs are getting tougher to fill. Older workers are prime candidates for these positions — whether they are unskilled and trying to make it through retirement or are well-off and looking for something different to do after spending 30 years in a fast-paced career. Lifeguarding is just one avenue that Boomers and seniors are taking. At Varsity, we believe that other industries are going to start experiencing a wave of older workers. If they choose to embrace it, it could be great for business. Should they choose to ignore it, they might be drowning in their own shortsightedness.

How do you define “seniors” for the purpose of marketing a product or service?

Are they age 55 and over?

Past the age of 62?

65 and up?

Our society has created several colloquial break points in age that serve to denote when someone becomes a “senior.” But, as aging services marketers, we know that the views of a 55-year-old are very different than the views of a 75-year -old. Heck, would you lump a 25-year-old person into the same demographic as a 45-year-old? Probably not! Yet, a significant number of marketing platforms do just that.

Take Google Ads, for instance. This platform is responsible for delivering most search engine marketing ads, sometimes abbreviated SEM (or PPC, for pay-per-click.) Within Google Ads, you can target your messaging to specific age ranges. These are:

  • 18-24
  • 25-34
  • 35-44
  • 45-54
  • 55-64
  • 65+

This provides a real challenge for those working in our space. If someone is retiring at 62, they are lumped in with people who are only 55, and might be several years away from retirement. Alternatively, someone who just turned 65 will not be receiving ads that could be meant for a far older crowd. This really makes marketing products to so-called “seniors” very hard, as Google’s arbitrary age break doesn’t follow standard societal conventions.

Google isn’t alone in this, however. Facebook uses the same arbitrary age break points that Google does. In fact, most online (and even some offline) marketing services use these categories. This puts us in a quandary – how do we, as people working in this space – advocate for our needs and still find success in the meantime.

At Varsity, we are taking a two-pronged approach. First, we are beginning to advocate to our partners for more granular demographics, especially for those in the over-65 category. At least give people over 65 the same 10-year break points that others get! We are also gathering demographic and psychometric data for those over the age 65. This data will continually impact our digital marketing strategies. We are always learning and trying to work smarter for our partners, and this kind of data forms a cornerstone of our success.

We are calling on other senior living marketers to advocate for this change as well. The more voices that can be heard, the better! 65+ isn’t an age. It isn’t a mindset. It’s an arbitrary demarcation that doesn’t represent the vibrancy, intelligence and diversity that older adults show.

We hope you’ll join us in making our voices heard and providing a “fresh perspective” to our media partners.

Last week, part of the Varsity team was in Denver, Colorado attending the “Pioneering a New Culture of Aging” conference hosting by Pioneer Network. It was an excellent event that certainly helped to reshape some of our thoughts around aging. We came away refreshed and invigorated; we are ready to bring forth these new ideas in our work. As we look back on the event, we identified three major points that everyone can benefit from.

1. Collaboration and transparency

The spirit of collaboration and transparency among the “Pioneers” creates an incredibly opportunity for transforming the way we view aging. This event convened a unique mix of aging services professionals. Each person brought with him or her an attitude of activism, directed at making a difference in the aging experience. Theirs is a mindset that promotes a willingness to share best practices in a way too many conferences miss.

2. Substantial shifts required

Often, when we think about change, we view it through a lens of policy and procedure. This event reminded us that culture change initiatives also require substantial shifts in programming, physical environments and mindsets. Our space needs thought leaders from across multiple disciplines, and not just traditional aging services professionals, to impact society’s views on aging.

3. Age of fear

As our friends at Janska displayed their amazing garments during Tuesday night’s fashion show, they reminded us of the importance of treating older adults with dignity. The items were, of course, fabulous – but so were the faces of the residents modeling the garments. Treating aging adults with respect and dignity isn’t as difficult as we sometimes make it seem. Get over your fear of what aging does to the human body and connect emotionally with someone you consider “old.”  You’ll be rewarded in countless ways!

We genuinely enjoyed our time at the conference and heartily recommend this event to anyone who has an interest in aging services. Until next year, we encourage everyone to keep making those subtle, daily improvements that can change how we view aging.

It’s August. The summer temperatures are soaring, and families are working to squeeze in one last vacation before school starts. For us at Varsity, August marks the last leg of the summer conference season. Our team has crisscrossed the country, visiting LeadingAge and aging service conferences from coast to coast. Like you, we learn something new at every one of these events. We also get excited about what the future holds and how we can be part of it. Then, winter rolls in, our daily workload increases, and those big ideas get bogged down in a mental mire from which they rarely return.

In speaking with a colleague, I was asked, “How do you keep yourself and your team inspired and excited long after a LeadingAge conference is over?

It’s a challenge we all struggle with — and one that I’ve been thinking more about since having that question posed.

Perhaps one of the best tactics I’ve used is our series of “takeaway” articles from each event. Sure, they are informative for our clients and friends, but they also provide me with a handy reference to remember what we found most exciting at each event. Over the course of the year, our team keeps track of these takeaways and looks for larger, nationwide trends. Then, as the year closes, with conference season far behind us, we gather and discuss the global trends that we have noticed. We distill the most important points that then become part of our business mindset going forward. For us, regular check-ins like this help to keep the conference energy up and to remind us of what we are excited about.

Therein lies the best and most difficult way to reengage your team members and build their excitement. You have to give them a time and an opportunity to be excited. You need to carve out a half day or a full day of time wherein they can ignore their daily tasks and get excited about the future and share their conference experiences. Doing this three to six months after an event is perfect, as it allows your team members to reflect on what they’ve heard and also see how it relates to your business.

For instance, we recently wrote about hybrid homes here on this blog. This is a concept that first came to us more than a year ago. As we’ve heard more about it, our team has gotten more excited. This excitement has led us to connect and grow our relationship with RLPS Architects. The company’s work helps to drive excitement in our team. Likewise, our marketing abilities help its team understand how the mature market is using the spaces it creates. By coming together to talk about those we serve, we energize each other between major events.

You simply can’t do everything, though. Conferences can offer hundreds of great, innovative ideas, but the reality is that most organizations can only handle one, maybe two, of these ideas at a time. By engaging with your team members and letting them decide which idea excites them most — and figuring out how to execute that idea — you can really keep the conference energy flowing through personal buy-in.

Over the next few weeks, our team is hitting the road for Florida, Colorado and Tennessee — you can be sure that we’ll be posting takeaways from all of these events. Just like you, we are working to harness these ideas to build our team, with the plan to better serve our clients, and through them, their residents.

A conference is a once-a-year event. It’s up to you to harness that excitement and energy for the remainder of the year to inspire your team.

During 2018, we have undertaken an ongoing blog series in which we take a look at the opportunities and challenges faced by the diverse groups of Boomers and seniors being served by today’s aging services providers.

For our first article in the series, we examined a rapidly growing population in the United States — Latino Boomers and seniors. In our second article, we looked at the changes that LGBT seniors are driving in the marketplace.

In this, our third article, we talk about America’s largest growing ethnic demographic – Asians.

If you were to walk into an average not-for-profit Life Plan Community in America, you would likely not find a large population of Asian-Americans. They are conspicuously absent on most campuses, even as other ethnic groups grow and prosper. Many Life Plan Communities now openly celebrate and welcome diversity, yet we continue to see low numbers of Asians moving to senior living communities. This leads us to wonder: Why is this the case, and what could a smart aging services organization do to tap into this market?

According to the latest Pew Research numbers, the Asian population in America has grown by 72 percent since the year 2000. That growth rate is faster than any other ethnicity, including Hispanics. However, as Westerners, we need to remember just how diverse the Asian population actually is. China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam are the most well-known countries of origin, but the largest growth is coming from lesser-known nations, such as Nepal, Burma, Laos and Bhutan. The cultures of these countries are incredibly diverse, yet in America, they all get lumped into one category: Asian. Aging services providers need to keep this in mind if they wish to tap into this market. Becoming educated about lesser-known Asian cultures — especially those who are providers in or near large cities — could create a profitable niche market for communities.

Of course, there are other challenges that a study of geography and culture can’t address. For instance, it is widely known that Asian families place a great deal of value on children caring for their parents as they age. Children are expected to welcome their parents into their homes if need be, or to stay with them if they require additional attention and care. Culturally, this is what is expected of the family, and there can be great shame placed upon a child that does not appropriately fulfill his or her filial duties.

Obviously, this is in stark contrast to the types of living options offered by retirement communities, making it a hard sell for many Asian families; however, cultural expectations and perceptions are changing. In China, for instance, nursing care is becoming more common because of the one-child-per-family policy. It is very difficult for a single child to care for two aging parents. The focus is shifting away from being personally responsible for caring for one’s parents to planning and funding their care by others. In this case, the child is still fulfilling his or her duties by providing for the parents — even if not by doing it him or herself.

This model is important for western providers to keep in mind as they market to the Asian population. There are still strong culture mores in place surrounding parents and aging. If your organization can find a way to creatively address this issue and reach into the Asian market, you’ll be way ahead of your competitors. This is exactly what Aegis Living is doing in Seattle.

In 2017, Aegis realized that there was a huge, untapped market for senior living services that catered to Asians. Its new community, called Aegis Gardens, sits at the epicenter of the Asian population in Washington, with more 90,000 Asian Americans living within 25 miles of the campus. Aegis is designing the community with Asian aesthesis in mind, including hiring a feng shui expert to help in the planning. The community is going to be a high-end marvel, dedicated to reaching a niche market that is being underserved.

This idea will not work everywhere, however. In today’s market, there is great value placed on luxury branded products. While the Seattle market might be able to support a luxury Asian-inspired community, most Asian-Americans cannot afford luxury. According to a 2017 Huffington Post article, Asian-Americans are roughly 1.5 times more likely to be classified as poor than are their Caucasian peers. Between 2009 and 2014, just as the Asian population was booming, so, too, were their poverty rates — which shot up 40 percent in this five-year period. This is why affordable housing developers are also eying the Asian market.

Not far from the luxury Aegis community in Seattle, a nonprofit named Kin On is expanding its presence. Kin On also focuses on Asian-Americans, choosing affordability and care over luxury. The community has existed for more than 30 years and now has a thriving population of Asian residents. Kin On ensures a mix of staff members that can speak Asian languages and provides Asian-inspired meal choices and activities that specifically appeal to the culture. As a not-for-profit community, Kin On concentrates on providing great care to residents that may not have other culturally appropriate options.

We don’t expect aging services providers to go out and develop completely new model communities that cater to a small niche population — especially if their locality doesn’t have one — however, just as with our other articles in this series, we think it behooves providers to get educated about diversity and provide more than the just the base level of cultural understanding.



Let’s face it: Instagram is generally considered a young person’s game. Certainly, the demographics of the platform would agree, as only 15 percent of all Instagram users are over the age of 45. If one looks at users 55+, that number plummets to a measly 6 percent. There was a time when Facebook had similar user statistics, but today, it is a platform embraced by all ages. Just as Facebook “matured” by adding older users to its base, so, too, is Instagram.

On the vanguard of this maturation are fashionistas, such as Lyn Slater. She operates an Instagram account named “Accidental Icon,” where she shares her latest fashion finds. Today, she has more than 500,000 followers who look to her for inspiration, in both fashion and aging. Her photos are what you would expect from a trendy social media star, but with a twist. Slater embraces her grey hair, making it a key part of her style. She doesn’t shy away from her age; rather, she welcomes it. And she’s not alone.

There is an increasing trend, both on Instagram and other platforms, of women who have stopped trying to fight aging and have learned to love it. Iris Apfel serves as another great example of this movement. While she may be nearing her 100th birthday, her fashion choices belie her age. Apfel spent her life in the fashion industry and sees no reason to tone down her avant-garde personal style. With her signature glasses, round and large on her face, she continues to drive fashion forward as she shows others that age isn’t a factor in her happiness.

The examples that Slater and Apfel are setting aren’t just being viewed and applauded by the fashion scene. Women are being inspired by their posts and taking action to make themselves feel better. If you search #AccidentalIcon on Instagram, you’ll find dozens of pictures of regular, everyday women who are trying out new fashion choices, changing up their hair styles and reimagining who they are. They aren’t conforming to the age-based stereotypes that society is imposing on them; instead, they are making choices that make them feel good and reflect their personal values, interests and beliefs.

As a marketing and branding agency that specializes in working with older adults, we see huge potential in movements like this one. Communities all over the country want to show that they are “active and vibrant.” Slater and Apfel are the epitome of this idea, but women like this exist in every community. We bet that you can think of at least one woman in your community right off the top of your head who is an “accidental icon.” Don’t just try to use your #AccidentalIcons for marketing; raise them up as proud members of a greater community that is actively changing the way the world looks at age and beauty. Their success, fulfillment and happiness will do more to market your community than any advertisement will.


Last week was a busy one for the Varsity team. Over the course of four days, we visited both coasts, with the team enjoying a successful annual conference and expo in Spokane for LeadingAge WA, followed by a top-notch annual event in Hershey, put on by LeadingAge PA. As usual, we sharpened our pencils and took notes about what we’re hearing from providers, pundits and other aging services experts across the country so that we can share them with you!

Before diving in, however, we’d like to congratulate Adam Marles, who has been appointed as the new CEO of LeadingAge PA. Adam is a progressive and visionary member of the aging services community, and we are looking forward to the ideas and innovations he’ll bring to the table. At Varsity, we’ve been working with LeadingAge PA to help launch its new website, and we’re excited to be a part of its next chapter!

Now, on to the takeaways!

1. Skilled nursing regulations

Whether you’re in Tacoma or Philadelphia, the changes to skilled nursing regulations remain an ever-present bogeyman that haunts providers in our space. It seems that, just when organizations feel they have a handle on compliance, authorities change the regulations and guidelines again, causing a new scramble to ensure providers are up to snuff. If we have to describe this trend in one word, it’s “weariness.” Providers feel like they are running a rat race that never ends; they are constantly trying to keep up and are very concerned about falling behind. As a marketing and branding group, these regulations fall out of our area of expertise, but we empathize with our skilled nursing providers who are trying to find a way to make their compliance jobs easier. Kudos to those organizations that have strong nursing leadership and that continue to be leaders in this space, such as Presby’s Inspired Life and Elim/Augustana Care.

2. Mindset matters

Motivational speakers are a key component of LeadingAge conferences. They help the leadership in our space feel refreshed and energized about the work they do. One common theme we heard from these speakers on both coasts is the importance of mindset.

Let’s face it — working in aging services can be stressful. As care providers, we see people at their most vulnerable, and we have to deal with death far more often than we’d like; however, our residents rely on us to remain upbeat and positive. One bad day can quickly turn into a dour week, which impacts everyone around us. As LeadingAge Washington speaker Dan Diamond put it, “Every day, we choose our mindset.” What was the mindset you chose for yourself today? How is it affecting those around you? Being conscious about our attitudes and mindset can help us become better leaders for our teams and organizations.

3. What’s next?

There is an unquenchable thirst within the aging services space for information on “what’s next.” It seems like as soon as someone explains what he or she thinks is “the next big thing,” someone else raises a hand to say, “That’s great, but what’s after that?”

We’d all love to have a crystal ball and be able to predict the future of our marketplace. At Varsity, we have some good ideas of what’s coming down the pike because of our insights into generational values and our breadth of experience across the country, but what’s next for Washington might be very different from what’s next for Pennsylvania.

For example, in the western states, we’re seeing providers tackling social policies like never before, such as LGBTQ issues and legal cannabis use. Over on the East Coast, providers are more interested in innovations in construction and technology and how it will change their product mix going forward. At some point, focuses will shift as each area looks at how the other has engaged and managed the challenges at hand.

While the travel between these two conferences was exhausting, the value of seeing LeadingAge members in two very different parts of country was immeasurable. We thank both LeadingAge WA and LeadingAge PA for their hospitality, and we look forward to continuing our partnerships and initiatives with them.

In the coming weeks, our team will be at LeadingAge Florida and LeadingAge Tennessee, so stop by and say hello!

LeadingAge Colorado celebrated it’s 50th anniversary in style with this year’s conference and exhibition, under the theme “Looking Back, Leading Forward.” Part of the Varsity team was on hand for the event and we thoroughly enjoyed the program.

We were especially taken with the keynote speaker, Reggie Rivers, a former player for the Denver Broncos, who shared his sports experiences and related them to the leading of teams. Reggie’s wit and humor were infectious and his presentation was packed full of great lessons. We wanted to share three takeaways from Reggie that we think could benefit any leader of teams in the aging services space.

Establish a metric for success.

Organizations accomplish goals because they keep their eye on the proverbial prize. While each individual person, team or department in an organization may have goals; they should all be contributing to the ultimate metric of success. Every person within the group should be able to clearly understand how their work helps to accomplish the overall mission and advance the organization.

This point really struck home with us at Varsity. As partners with our clients, we are keenly aware of how our work directly aids a client in achieving their goals and pushing their organization forward. We will definitely be asking our future partners to articulate their “metric of success” and working to demonstrate how we are contributing to that goal.

Focus on your area of control.

Aging services is a big and complicated space to work in. Every day we are confronted with new challenges and opportunities. They could range from a disappointed family, to an unexpected survey, to celebrating a 100th birthday. It can be easy to let ourselves get caught up in these moments and feel like we are constantly responding to issues instead of being proactive. To Reggie’s point, if we spend our time focusing on the items we can control, we’ll end up happier and closer to our goals.

Prepare to fail and instead focus on incremental wins.

If we succeeded one hundred percent of the time, the world wouldn’t need us. We must recognize, as people, that we are always learning and growing. We are going to fail our team. Our team is going to fail us. It’s how we respond to these failures that demonstrates our organizational culture, values, and understandings. On that same thought, we should also celebrate incremental wins. If your goal is 100% occupancy, don’t delay celebration until that number is hit. Instead celebrate every new resident and contract signed, as that’s an incremental win that is pushing you further towards your goal.

Reggie demonstrated the real world impact of these three points thorugh a story about the Broncos. The team shifted their philosophy for rewarding success and in doing so, made sure that EVERYONE “wins” when the team does well on the field. The leadership of the team made sure that every role in the organization understood how their job contributed to the overall team performance. This caused an absolute transformation in attitudes and, interestingly enough, the team went on to win several Super Bowls after numerous losses in the Big Game.

We congratulate LeadingAge Colorado on a successful conference and a productive half-century of advocacy for seniors in the State. Keep up the good work and we are looking forward to the 2019 conference!


During 2018, we have undertaken an ongoing blog series in which we take a look at the opportunities and challenges faced by the diverse groups of Boomers and seniors being served by today’s aging services providers.

For our first article in the series, we examined a rapidly growing population in the United States — Latino Boomers and seniors.

In this, our second article, we are looking at the challenges faced by LGBT Boomers and seniors as they age in a changing society.

It was early — almost too early, some would say — but I was interested in the topic, so I got up early for the 7:30 a.m. session at the LeadingAge California Annual Conference and Exhibition.

The speaker was from SAGE, an advocacy group for LGBT Boomers and seniors. His presentation was discussing how communities are adapting their policies and culture to become more welcoming to LGBT individuals. The audience was fuller than I expected, with approximately 20 people. They were clutching their coffees and wiping the sleep from their eyes. Such is the bane of the early morning presenter.

After the typical opening remarks, the presenter said something that caught everyone’s attention. “I guarantee you that there are LGBT individuals residing in your communities right now.” You could almost hear the wheels start to turn.

“Do you have two women that live together, who are lifelong friends?” he said. “Did you have two men move into the community at the same time who chose to live in separate apartments? How about Mrs. Jones down at the end of the hall, who was never married?” Then, like a sunrise, it dawned on the participants, including myself: LGBT individuals are at all of our communities. They just choose not to be out because of personal, societal or cultural reasons.

Admit it. As you read this, you probably thought of someone at your community who fits this description. That’s because the presenter was right — these individuals reside at all of our communities. We need to recognize it and, frankly, we need to do a better job of meeting their needs as they age.

According to SAGE, there are currently three million LGBT adults over the age of 50 in the United States. By 2030, that number is expected to grow to seven million. These individuals are twice as likely to be single or living alone, and four times less likely to have children. This is significant because, as we age, our families are often the first people we turn to for care. But, in many cases, LGBT seniors may not have that kind of support. This can lead to social isolation, with more than 60 percent of LGBT adults reporting feeling a lack of companionship, with more than 50 percent feeling isolated from others.

Obviously, there is a huge market for culturally competent aging services providers to provide care to these individuals. The key here is that the provider is truly culturally competent. Thirty-four percent of LGBT older adults fear having to re-closet themselves when seeking senior housing in order to be accepted or to fit into a community. This fear isn’t just in regards to the staff and administration; it also relates to the other residents who form the day-to-day life at the community.

What can you do, today, to become more culturally aware and competent in assisting LGTB Boomers and seniors?

We encourage you to look around your community and ask yourself if it is welcoming to LGBT individuals. Be realistic. Would you residents be accepting of an openly LGBT person? Would your team know how to address him or her respectfully? Could you accommodate his or her needs?

There’s a huge market being created right now for communities that can appropriately care for LGBT individuals. This could be your organization’s chance to get in on the ground floor of this movement. Not only will you be doing the right thing, but it could easily give you a leg up on your competition.

We encourage you to check out SAGE and engage its training program for your team — starting with your executives and working downward to your frontline associates. Becoming SAGE-certified is a great way to show that you’re taking the LGBT Boomer and senior community seriously and that you want to meet its needs.

Diversity has never been more important in senior living than it is right now. The fabric of American culture is changing. What people want from an aging services provider is changing. Providers can either adapt and welcome diversity or shun it and wither on the vine.

What path will your organization choose?



The facts on LGBT aging

Two weeks ago, on a whim, I wrote an article discussing how the reboot of the show “Roseanne” has been addressing issues related to aging. Since writing that article, another episode has debuted that touched on an issue that many Baby Boomers are struggling with — aging parents. Specifically, we’ll be reviewing season 10, episode 6, entitled “No Country for Old Women.”

In the show, Roseanne and her sister, Jackie, are confronted with how best to assist their aging mother, Beverly. Neither daughter wants to take full responsibility for her, as they are both leading complicated lives that leave little time for caring for an aging parent. It also doesn’t help that Beverly has a challenging personal outlook and worldview. Eventually, the sisters decide on “joint custody,” with the mother alternating where she lives every week. As one would suspect, Beverly isn’t very happy with this situation. After Jackie catches her mid-coitus with an older gentleman in Jackie’s apartment, Beverly half-heartedly threatens suicide. This moment helps Jackie to see the challenges her mother faces and how the whole situation makes her feel unwanted. Jackie concedes, and Beverly takes up residence with her.

In less than a half hour of television, this episode struck at the heart of a growing crisis in American families. As people live longer, their retirement funds are drying up, and their need for extended medical care grows. Families once took care of aging relatives at home, but that was usually for just a few years. Now, an aging parent might live for a decade or more, requiring additional care that children and grandchildren just aren’t able to render. Of course, the children don’t want to feel guilty by placing their parent in a community that the parent doesn’t want to go to. It’s a rock and a hard place, for sure.

In 2016, The Atlantic published an article called, “What Aging Parents Want From Their Kids.” In the piece, several families are interviewed about how they are handling aging, from both the children’s and parents’ point of view. It’s fascinating how the roles have reversed, with parents feeling the stress of being checked up on and feeling as though their life is under constant scrutiny. This can lead to parents trying to hide age-related health issues, such as memory lapses and difficulty with daily activities. On the other side of the coin, adult children are often afraid of their parents getting hurt, further encouraging their protective behavior. Welcome to the new normal for many families.

“Roseanne” adroitly manages to take a serious topic and find the humor in it. Yes, Beverly is a prickly individual that is hard to like, but she’s still a human being with feelings that can be hurt. Just because she’s aging doesn’t mean that she is bereft of value. Jackie and Roseanne are forced to confront their own behavior and how it impacts someone they love.

This issue is becoming all too common in our space. As caregivers to the aging, we must also care for a resident’s family, who can be just as scared as a new resident. The services that communities provide are felt well beyond the resident, and our ability to put the family at ease is often even more important than the direct care a resident might get.


The LeadingAge California 2018 Annual Conference & EXPO is in the books! As always, the event was truly “extraordinary,” fitting with this year’s theme. From the PAC dinner on Monday evening to the continuing education classes and the exposition hall, the event was filled with opportunities for learning and networking.

Over the last year, we’ve built up an article series about our three takeaways from major events like “be extraordinary” by LeadingAge California. This gives me a chance to share some of the insight I’ve gained and, hopefully, provide some thoughts around what’s on the horizon for aging services organizations.


The sharing economy is here to stay.

Given the flood of Boomers who fall into a more moderate income category, expect the concept of sharing even more of their collective assets to continue, up to and including their homes. Brace yourself for groups of friends who want to move to your community to cohabitate — perhaps two or three to a home. Ride sharing continues to grow in this space as well. I had the opportunity to speak to several people who are using Lyft as a primary source of transportation at their communities, with much success. Other organizations are making shared vehicles, like Zipcar, available to residents. As individual assets continue to shrink, expect to see Boomers looking for creative ways to pool their resources to get the best experience possible.


In advocacy, there is power.

Advocacy remains vital to keeping the needs of our aging society in front of legislators; as a field, we must do more work in coordinating a common voice on behalf of those we serve. LeadingAge California is leading the charge by increasing its focus on developing its PAC and targeting specific legislators who have an interest in helping LeadingAge member organizations. It isn’t just investing in lobbyists, but also in causes that can make a big difference in the bottom line for communities across the state.


Technological advancements can’t replace social interactions.

Right now in our communities, we are seeing a technological revolution that is being driven by our residents. During the conference, we heard multiple stories of residents utilizing the Amazon Echo and Apple Siri products to augment their day and make it easier. Boomers and seniors are taking these devices and finding new and creative ways to apply them to their daily lives, especially for those who may have vision issues. Think about it — our society is incredibly driven by visual interactions; however, this new generation of device is best interacted with using our auditory senses.

All that being said, these advancements aren’t likely to replace human interaction. Attendees were cautioned on the consequences such devices can bring with them, like families who visit less often, a decline in face-to-face doctor visits and a desire to automate health. It’s a rabbit hole that we can easily fall down as we cut costs and stretch our staff farther. Remember, no piece of technology can beat the caring voice and the compassionate hand on the shoulder of a trained nursing professional.


We’d like to thank our friends at LeadingAge California for the opportunity to present two education sessions at this year’s event. Our team had an excellent time meeting and networking with communities from all over the Golden State, and we are already looking forward to next year!

On March 27, 2018, ABC aired the first episode of “Roseanne”’s 10th season. To say there was an appetite for the relaunch of this program is an understatement; more than 18 million people tuned in to watch the show, which was renewed for an 11th season within three days of the airing. Sure, nostalgia is driving interest in the production, but the stories being told are resonating with viewers, especially in the 18 to 49 demographic.

You might be wondering why we’re discussing a television show that is popular with an age group that doesn’t qualify as the “mature market.” It’s certainly a pertinent question! To answer that query, we point to season 10, episode 3, entitled “Roseanne Gets the Chair.” While every episode of the season touches on aging issues, this one brings them to the forefront.

As Roseanne has aged, her knees have gotten bad. Throughout the season, she quips about her joint pain and the challenges she faces getting around as she ages. To help this situation, Roseanne’s caring husband, Dan, installs a chair lift in their home stairwell to help Roseanne with her mobility issues. Dan says he got the lift from a neighbor who passed away, implying that someone much older than Roseanne up to this point used it. Naturally, Roseanne is resistant to using the lift because, in her words, “It makes me feel old.” At one point in the show, Roseanne gives in to using the lift, taking a seat and riding it up the stairs. As she does so, her granddaughter bounds up and down the steps, running past her, making her feel even more feeble and vulnerable. This interaction illustrates a point that is hitting close to home for that 18 to 49 audience — namely, the adult children that are now looking to care for their parents.

In real life, Roseanne is 65 years old, and it can be presumed that her character is roughly the same age. In the show, she and Dan struggle with keeping track of their prescriptions and dealing with age-related pain, as well as the challenges of living with their children and grandchildren all under one roof. Let’s face it: This is a common story in America today, which may be why the show has struck a cord.

People 18 to 49 are young enough to remember when “Roseanne” first aired, with a young, vibrant cast dealing with blue-collar issues. Now, that cast has aged alongside them and is facing the same life stage challenges as their families are. Adult children are watching as their parents endure joint replacements, manage medications and fight to stay active, even as their bodies begin to decline. This is especially apparent within blue-collar families, who may not be able to afford a retirement community and choose to stay in their own homes, depending on family care and resourcefulness.

In its own way, “Roseanne” is generating discussion and insight on the aging process in a manner that no other show is doing today. Rather than exaggerating the issues of aging for sport, the show reacts to them in a real way. This reaction is something that many adult children are facing as they watch their own parents age into their mid- to late-60s and early 70s. The desire for this group to remain active is routinely challenged by health, leading to adult children taking on caregiver roles — whether they are equipped or not.

Through our work with aging services providers, we know these challenges all too well. Previously in this blog, we’ve discussed the lack of middle class senior living options. Instead, our industry is bookended with affordable housing and luxury brands, leaving the middle class with few places to turn. We must ask ourselves: Where will the Roseanne’s of the world live in the next 10 years, and is our industry ready for those opportunities?

In the meantime, we will continue to tune in to “Roseanne” and laugh along with America — even as we look deeper into the aging issues that the show brings to life.

Welcome to the month of May!

It’s a time when we welcome blossoming flowers, warmer temperatures and the observance of Older Americans Month. In the next few days, aging services providers across the country will tip their hats to this annual event — perhaps going so far as to plan a promotion around it — yet we find that most providers don’t understand the history and true purpose of the celebration.

Older Americans Month was established in 1963 to support and recognize the small population of Americans aged 65 and over at that time. Fifty-five years later, if Older Americans Month were a person, it could join AARP and would probably start getting mailers about your communities and services. The impetus for the creation of the observance came from the National Council of Senior Citizens who worked with then-president John F. Kennedy to establish Senior Citizens Month, which has evolved over time into the annual event we know today. Starting with JFK, every president since has issued a formal proclamation, asking that the nation pay tribute to older Americans in some way — whether through a ceremony, a fair or some other activity.

The program is now under the purview of the Administration on Aging, in partnership with other agencies and entities. Each year, a theme is determined, with supporting materials provided to help community leaders recognize older Americans for their lives and service. The theme for 2018 is “Engage at Every Age,” which aims to emphasize that you are never too old (or too young) to take part in activities that can enrich your life. Specifically, the program is shining a light on mental and physical wellness this year, including traditional exercise-based ideas, as well as more unusual ones, like establishing a mentoring relationship.

We encourage you to explore the website for Older Americans Month and make use of all of the resources provided. The outline great ideas for programs that can help energize your residents and team members, as well as the greater community that your organization serves.

Click here to visit the website for OAM.

Remember: If you are posting about Older Americans Month on social media, use the hashtag #oma18! to share all of the great things you are doing!

This article is the third in a three-part series, offering a fresh perspective on a topic that aging services providers often overlook older adults experiencing homelessness. For this series, we are interviewing Brother Damien Joseph of the Society of St. Francis. Damien Joseph works with people experiencing homelessness in California and offers some incredible insights.

You can read the first article here.

You can read the second article here.

In our last article, we discussed issues relating to the health of older adults experiencing homelessness. Are aged individuals more likely to seek assistance or less? Is there any discrimination in the services rendered? (Meaning that some shelters prefer to help young, homeless mothers — do they avoid the older population?)

I don’t know if there is a pattern in likelihood to seek assistance. I do know there is a sub-population of “chronically homeless” people, who by virtue of being defined as living on the street long term, are often older. This population is often less likely to seek assistance for a variety of reasons, including sheer weariness of trying to navigate a system of vastly inadequate resources.

Legal protections prevent most shelters from turning away an individual based on age. There are certainly specialized shelters for women with children and so on, but a shelter open to general populations may not consider age. What they MAY and DO consider is degree of medical need. If the shelter decides that a person potentially has more medical, mobility or assistance needs than it can accommodate, it does not have to accept that client. Obviously, older individuals are more likely to have these needs (especially if they’ve been experiencing homelessness) and, therefore, are more likely to be turned down. It’s legally not considered discrimination, but it has the same effect.

Just last week, I was with a group talking with the Episcopal chaplain at a large LA hospital. Looking at his current hospital census, he could quickly identify nine individuals who were admitted to the facility for a treatment lasting a couple of days but had now been there from three to nine months because their age and medical needs made it impossible to find shelter or program housing. This hospital, being a religious institution and committed to care over profit, will not put these individuals out on the street, but it has received no payment from Medicare or any insurer since the first few days of the hospitalization of these nine. Other hospitals would not be willing to take such a hit.

In San Francisco, a chronically homeless woman we knew well arrived at our door one chilly windy evening, barefoot, wearing only sweatpants and a thin T-shirt. She was heavily sedated by antipsychotics. The hospital where she had just been treated for pneumonia had discharged her with a taxi voucher bearing our address. Within half an hour, we had to call EMS again, and she was readmitted to another hospital for further care. If she had not knocked on our door, she might well have died that night.

Do you find that individual people are less likely to help an older person than a younger one?

I’m endlessly bothered by how much “compassion fatigue” I see in our cities. Most people walk past their unsheltered and needy neighbors as if they weren’t there. They don’t make eye contact, don’t speak to them and cross the street, if necessary. If it were possible to help less than “not at all,” then perhaps I could guess whether younger or older people were more likely to be ignored.

Are older homeless people more likely to have been homeless for a long period of their life and have just given up on finding a home? Or do they usually find themselves homeless later in life, through no fault of their own?

One of the most important truths of work with the community experiencing homelessness is that there is no typical story. There are as many stories and as many causes of homelessness as there are individuals experiencing it. It may have been common at one point for most older people living unsheltered to be among the “chronically homeless,” but I meet people in all varieties of situations.

Some have been chronically homeless. Many have been impacted by the ever-increasing cost of living and income gap. In cities like San Francisco and LA, where gentrification is rampant, many have fallen victim to developer greed, as building buyers find legal loopholes in rent control and force people out of places they’ve lived in for decades. Some have lost their retirement income to recent financial crises. Many were among the growing number of Americans whose full-time, honest work never left enough to save for retirement and now find that meager Social Security payments don’t go very far, especially in a city. Some have been made destitute by catastrophic medical problems, the onset of mental illness or addiction. Those who are new to being homeless as a senior are often especially at sea. Trying to navigate the system and compete for drastically insufficient resources is a huge and baffling adjustment. Many are just overwhelmed by it.

As we conclude our series of interviews with Damien Joseph, we must reflect on what we, as individuals and as organizations, are doing to help older adults that are at risk for homelessness. Each of our organizations can do something.

At Varsity, we’ve made a contribution to the Society of St. Francis to assist Damien Joseph with his ongoing ministry. If you’re interested in learning more about the work of the Society of St. Francis, you can visit the website at

If you’d like to make a donation to help the Society’s work, you can do so at h . There, you’ll find information about sending a check by mail or making an online donation.

This article is the second in a three-part series, offering a fresh perspective on a topic that aging services providers often overlook older adults experiencing homelessness. For this series, we are interviewing Brother Damien Joseph of the Society of St. Francis. Damien works with people experiencing homelessness in California and offers some incredible insights.  

You can read the first article here.

There will be one more post in this series, so make sure to stop back next week as we complete the interview.

Many people think of the homeless as younger, or even middle-aged. From your experience, how many people experiencing homelessness are age 55+? What struggles might they face that the younger homeless population doesn’t?

Your point is well made. In most reports I’ve looked at, “young” is defined as under 25 or thereabouts. HUD reports to congress seem to use this division. The category of homeless seniors is often left out, but the older homeless population is growing alarmingly fast.

In my personal contact with individuals living directly on the streets, I am alarmed both by how many very young homeless there are and by how many older homeless there are. Increasing income disparity, cultural changes, individual social and moral attitudes and a deeply flawed social safety net are among many factors contributing to the fact that no age group is safe from homelessness.

The unique struggles for older homeless individuals are many. Many do use an age well below 55 or 65 to define “older” among individuals who experience homelessness, because the toll it takes on a person physically and emotionally is devastating and certainly reduces life expectancy. I’m often surprised when a person who has been unhoused for an extended period tells me his or her age. That “little old homeless man” you see wandering around your town may turn out to be 50, not 70!

I know that, even in middle age, I find that a night away with a lousy mattress is taxing. Imagine, as a senior, how uncomfortable it is, sleeping on hard surfaces like the ground, concrete, cots or metal shelter bunks! Plus, many are sleeping exposed to the elements. Even in shelters, temperature controls can be unpredictable, and leaks and dampness abound.

The “street” population explodes in numbers every day around 7 or 8 a.m. That’s the time that many, if not most shelters require most of their residents to leave for the day, returning again in the evening. During those daylight hours, folks will have to deal with whatever temperature, weather and air quality issues there are. Escape from the sun, heat, rain and so on may be possible, or individuals may be continually “moved along” by business owners and police who don’t want to see them hanging around. Many cities have been actively removing public seating areas, or at least designing them to make lying down impossible. In some cities, including in San Francisco, it is illegal to sit down or set down your property on a public sidewalk. In order to comply with this law, an individual would literally have to remain on the move, carrying all of his or her possessions all day long. Businesses increasingly install what activists call “violent architecture” or “anti-homeless measures,” placing raised or jagged structures on flat surfaces to prevent them from being used to rest.

Finally, we must address the lack of access to appropriate health care and medical treatment. While this affects all people experiencing homelessness, the older population is clearly hit hardest. Most are uninsured or underinsured. State/federal program coverage generally gives them access to care, but certainly not the best available care. Elderly individuals without stable housing may find great difficulty in receiving any medical care requiring privacy, storing medications in need of refrigeration or other special conditions, keeping track of times for dosages and so on. Add to this continual exposure to infection, trash, body fluids, vehicle exhaust, smog and so on, and it’s remarkable that older people in this context can ever be healthy.

Clinics that specially serve this population exist, of course, but the one where I volunteered in San Francisco was continually swamped with demand, had few providers (with high turnover) and lacked access to easy referrals, specialty equipment and procedures that would be readily accessible in a private practice. I performed routine record reviews for patients due for follow-up but often found that they had no phone or address at which to be contacted, or that, in the frequent instability of temporary housing, they had moved, and their Medicare now required them to start over with a new clinic. Consistent care is rare. Many, even the very ill, never seek medical treatment until they end up in an ER. I met an elderly unsheltered man last year who asked for help filling his prescription for an infection on his leg. He pulled up his pant leg to reveal his entire lower leg blackened and necrotic. Had he been a properly insured, or able to pay consumer rate, he would have been instantly hospitalized for so serious an infection. But somewhere, some provider gave him a prescription for some cream and told him to figure out how to pay to fill it. This really drove home the issues with health care for me.

Health care is such an important example of what aging services providers offer. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could survive for long without appropriate care from trained professionals. Assuredly, this is a problem for our whole society one without an easy solution.

We hope you’ll join us next week when we conclude our interview with Damien Joseph and wrap up our discussion on the challenges faced by older adults experiencing homelessness.

This article is the first in a three-part series, offering a fresh perspective on a topic that aging services providers often overlook — older adults experiencing homelessness. Over the next few weeks, we will post sequels to this piece, so make sure to check back!

I had settled into the back seat of my Uber. My phone was in my hand, and I was scrolling through emails, trying to catch up after a flight to Los Angeles. As we drove under an underpass, bright colors caught my attention. I looked up to find a sea of brightly colored tents, many in tatters, formed by a small enclave of individuals experiencing homelessness. I was struck by how many of the people I saw were older adults. Later, during a meeting with our team at Varsity, I mentioned this. Our communications manager, Seth Anthony, said that he knew a man in California that was ministering to this population.

That man is Brother Damien Joseph, a friar in the Society of St. Francis, an Episcopalian-affiliated religious order based out of San Francisco. Three years ago, Damien Joseph gave up all of his worldly possessions and moved to California, where he found a calling working with people experiencing homelessness. Because of his vast firsthand experience with this population, we interviewed him, and he provided some fresh perspective on how older individuals experiencing homelessness are treated.

Can you give us a brief overview of those without shelter that you’ve interacted with?

There are multiple types of homelessness. While we automatically picture someone sleeping on the sidewalk, our homelessness crisis also includes people living in shelters (sometimes NOT a step up from the street), SRO (single-room occupancy) type shelters, transitional housing, unstable housing (“couch surfing,” for example) and so on.  It’s very important to recognize that the scope and complexity of the problem is far greater than just what we can all see driving around a big city.

Second, just as in any field, language is loaded. It’s worth noting that advocates are trying to steer conversation away from referring to “the homeless,” as it is seen as depersonalizing and as defining a person, and his or her worth, by his or her housing status. People working in the field prefer to use language like “people experiencing homelessness.”

Do you find it true that many older people who are experiencing homelessness didn’t have an opportunity to plan for retirement? Perhaps they don’t have any savings, or they lost the savings in some way? Do you find it common for folks to have not had any retirement plan and now find themselves in trouble?

I’m inclined to think more cases involve simply having no chance of preparing for retirement, rather than having simply failed to plan. Politicians want to find the “solution” to homelessness, but there is no one solution. Homelessness is a complex phenomenon perpetuated by elements out of our control and by elements we absolutely can control, both as individuals and as a society.

Addressing issues regarding seniors and homelessness, like any other problem, is best done by making changes BEFORE seniors become homeless. Increases in available resources, especially health care, is an essential, practical and right place to start. Additional shelter services are needed, but long-term supportive housing solutions are needed far more. What is needed most is also most difficult to get: a change in the hearts and minds of people.

When all of us believe that no one deserves to be left in the gutter, when we get it through our heads that no one “deserves” to be poor, when we realize how much of what we have is pure “dumb luck,” when we treat everyone with the dignity they deserve, then we’ll make some progress.

It’s all about people taking care of people.

I found that last quote resonate, as it’s something I hear from aging services executives all over the country: We take care of people. So, what are our non-profit aging services organizations doing to take care of those most at risk, such as those experiencing homelessness? 

We hope you’ll join us next week when we continue our interview with Damien Joseph and further discuss the challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness.


We were pleased to sponsor a basecamp at this year’s LeadingAge PEAK Conference. While much of our team was front and center, sharing knowledge and experience, I took the opportunity to attend other presentations and listen to what our colleagues in the aging services space were saying. After reflecting on the event, I boiled my experience down to three takeaways that really provided insight for me.

Design Trends

My favorite presentation from the event had to be “7 Hot Design Trends” from Gregory Scott of RLPS Architects. Greg is well-known in our space, and I really respect his insight. He covered a plethora of information in his 20 minutes on stage. From the desire for more urban-style living to hybrid homes and how to make the most of apartment repositions, it was a wealth of great tips and tricks. Certainly, I’ll always remember this — “When remodeling an apartment, don’t mess with the plumbing. Leave it where it is and build around it.” That’s some great advice!

Expanding Services and Communities

Across the country, we are seeing a trend of growth among providers. However, the form this growth takes can be very different from organization to organization. We heard from Bob Dahl of Elim Care regarding the community’s expansion to new parts of the country, spurred on by grassroots support, which, in turn, caused a realignment in strategic thinking for Elim.

On the other end of the spectrum, we heard from the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, which has found new ways to provide services to the wider community while not drastically expanding its campus size. By offering more home-based services, Abramson has seen rapid growth over the last 10 years, going from serving 400 people to more than 4,000 within a decade.

Both of these models have merit, and we’ll be interested to see how other organizations put these lessons into practice.

The Growth and Impact of Memory Support

Our team thoroughly enjoyed the Great Minds Gala, held on Tuesday evening. LeadingAge honored award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden and renowned chef Madison Cowan with the Proxmire Award for their advocacy and activism for people impacted by memory diseases. The growth of the memory support sector within aging services is phenomenal, and at Varsity, we are working on some creative ways to bring awareness to the value memory support can provide, including a better quality of life for the individuals and their families.

We thank LeadingAge for a great conference and hope that everyone who stopped by our basecamp learned something valuable from our team!

At Varsity, we’re always looking for inspiration and ideas on ways we can improve communications and marketing for our clients. Like any industry, we review what thought leaders are doing to help us keep current with trends and innovations, but that strategy can only get you so far. If you’re always working to keep up with the competition, you’re never really taking the lead. This caused us to ask, “What industry is like ours, has a similar sales funnel and encounters the same kinds of challenges?”

The answer was simple, really — post-secondary education.

Today, colleges and universities spend millions of dollars each year trying to attract just the right mix of students to their institutions. They build beautiful campuses, filled with state-of-the-art learning facilities, luxurious amenities and grandiose sports fields, all in an effort to entice potential students to choose them over their competitors. They aren’t just selling the degree; they’re selling the lifestyle. It becomes about self-identity and being part of something bigger than yourself.

The marketing techniques being employed by these schools aren’t entirely dissimilar to those that retirement communities are beginning to use.

Selling someone retirement at a community isn’t about whether you have the right floor plans or enough square footage for their furniture. Today’s retirees are looking for a well-rounded community that provides a variety of engaging activities, high-quality dining options, beautiful living spaces, security and a sense of belonging. Just as students are proud to show off the school they attend, our residents are proud to talk about the community they chose to retire to — and why not? They spent their hard-earned retirement investments to enjoy their lives at a community full of their peers, just as college students do.

As we reviewed marketing materials from post-secondary schools, especially their websites and social media presences, we found similar themes to the messages we need to convey in retirement living.

Schools provide communications targeted at several varying audiences:

  • Current students
  • Potential students
  • Parents
  • Alumni and donors
  • Employees

In the same vein, senior marketing strategies work to reach the same types of groups:

  • Current residents
  • Potential residents
  • Families
  • Community partners
  • Employees

While not all of these groups will directly lead to a sale, interacting with them provides a complete and holistic view of our brand and communities. It shows that we care for all who support our mission.

This revelation has led us to look for inspiration. How do colleges and universities market themselves? How can this guide retirement living marketing? While the target audience is slightly different, the driving forces are the same. By understanding the drivers and emotions at play in that decision process, we can better communicate with our audience, providing them with easy access to the answers they’re looking for. This, ultimately, puts us in a better position to demonstrate that one community is the best place for them compared to others.

While your retirement community may not have a popular mascot, a well-known sports program or scientific research lab, it does have one important thing in common with college: heart. The years spent in retirement are just as important — if not more so — than the years spent in college. They are to be enjoyed and cherished.

That’s the message we try to convey every day at Varsity, and it’s a challenge we love.


During 2018, we have undertaken an ongoing blog series: We are taking a look at the opportunities and challenges faced by the diverse groups of Boomers and seniors being served by today’s aging services providers.

For our first article in the series, we examine a rapidly growing population in the United States: Latino Boomers and seniors.

The numbers don’t lie.

According to Pew Research, in 2015, there were 57 million Americans who identified as Hispanic or Latino. Between 2000 and 2014, 54 percent of the United States population growth came from Latinos. This growth hasn’t just occurred along the Southern borders, either. The top three counties for Latino growth in the United States are all in North Dakota, thanks to the Bakken shale oil boom.

Put yourself in the shoes of an aging Latino immigrant to the United States. You’ve probably come from a country with a lower standard wage and less opportunities. You’ve now worked in America, and you’re looking at retirement. If you were fortunate to work in an industry that provided retirement benefits, you might be in good fiscal shape; perhaps you can afford to retire to a community with quality care and a high standard of living. But is that community ready for you?

If we were to poll the sales & marketing directors at any number of communities around the country, they would say that their community is welcoming of Latinos and ready to meet their needs — and they aren’t being deceptive. From a sales & marketing standpoint, most aging services organizations are indeed ready for an influx of Latino residents, but the challenges don’t exist at the front door, so to speak; rather, they exist internally in the community and how the social structure of retirement may differ from the cultural norms that Latinos value.

Let’s start with marketing materials. Often, aging services organizations use a pastel palette, which conveys caring and relaxation. These colors traditionally appeal to women, who are often the key decision-makers regarding the retirement process, especially among Caucasians. According to Lester Long, who has studied Latino culture, the father is the head of the average Latino house, and while the mother is responsible for its maintenance, major decisions rest with the man. These family structures remain at the heart of Latino personal relations.

Family is one of the most important factors, if not the most important factor, for many Latinos. There is a strong sense of duty and honor for this demographic, especially when it comes to family hospitality. When travelling to other cities, Latinos opt to stay with family during the trip. Would that be allowed in your community? Could a Latino family stay with one of your residents for a few days? Offering this type of service could be a great addition to your marketing if you’re trying to attract Latino residents.

Appealing to potential Latino residents can also prove challenging because, as a culture, they place great importance on the present, with less concern for the future. Therefore, all of the “safety net” programs that aging services groups offer can fall on deaf ears in the Latino community. Concentrating on what your community offers today can prove more effective than discussing services that the potential resident may never need.

Latino residents are a huge opportunity for retirement service providers, but their wants and needs vary slightly from the position that senior sales & marketing professionals tend to take. By making some subtle changes to your strategy now, you could easily find your organization on the forefront of the Latino Boomer influx, giving you a leg up in the market.



In an era where the average person feels more connected than ever, the issue of loneliness among seniors is becoming disconcerting. Boomers, Xers and Millennials have adapted to a social world that revolves around mobile technology, yet seniors are becoming increasingly disassociated from their families. So, what’s the root cause of this problem, and how can we address it as aging services professionals?

According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, about 28 percent of people aged 65 and older are living alone. As one ages, the chances of living alone increase. This makes sense, as spouses pass away and children move out. Of course, living alone doesn’t immediately make someone lonely, but we can all agree that it’s a step in the direction of loneliness.

Becoming a single-person household can start a chain reaction that leads to larger, wide-ranging problems. Studies have shown that older adults that feel lonely or isolated will begin displaying behaviors that make them increasingly more difficult to interact with in social situations, thus pushing friends and relatives even further away. This, of course, only makes the person feel more lonely, creating a vicious psychological cycle.

The negative implications of a lonely lifestyle are numerous. Isolated and lonely seniors have a 59 percent greater risk of mental and physical decline and show a 45 percent mortality increase. Of those living alone, one in seven is suffering from some kind of dementia, which can go undetected if a person isn’t engaging in regular social interactions.

Family dynamics have also changed. At one time, a child might have gone to visit his or her parents once or twice a month. Now, the number of in-person visits is dwindling, being replaced by less-frequent phone calls or perhaps the use of Skype and FaceTime. These technological visits don’t have the same effect for seniors that in-person interaction does.

One statistic of special note for aging services providers comes from data reported by AARP: Forty-five percent of people aged 45 or older who have lived in their current residence less than one year reported feeling lonely. Let that sink in for a minute!

Even in our vibrant, active communities — filled with intelligent and engaged residents and staff — new residents can feel especially lonely and isolated. It can become difficult for them to make new friends, navigate the social structure of your community and become involved in a meaningful way. Ensuring that each new resident is paired with a neighbor to show them the ropes when he or she moves in is vitally important.

The social workers at aging services communities are on the frontlines of the battle against loneliness, but each associate at your community should be on the lookout for signs of self-seclusion or withdrawal. Protecting residents, both physically and mentally, is an important part of each team member’s job.


As the holiday season approaches, people are gathering to celebrate. During these festive times, families often discuss future plans, including retirement and aging services options for themselves or loved ones. This makes December a critical time for ensuring that your organization is present on social media and engaged with users.

With this in mind, we are proud to release our Aging Services Guide to Social Media. This booklet provides valuable information and tips for managing your organization’s social media presence. It covers the gamut from Facebook, to Twitter, to YouTube, to Snapchat and more!

Created by our in-house communications team, and based on real-world experience in operating social media accounts for aging services organizations, we believe this publication will be an excellent tool for your marketing and PR tool kit!

If you’d like to receive a copy of the guide, complete the form below and we’ll send it your way!
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2017 was a trying year for aging services organizations across the country — and not just for the traditional reasons. Sure, costs went up, income from government plans went down, and the need to upgrade remained constant. But, as the year went on, it was the unexpected tragedies that caught the industry’s attention. Massive flooding permeated the Gulf Coast, wildfires blazed in the American West and, of course, there was a devastating fire that recently struck at Barclay Friends in Pennsylvania. These unexpected events can quite literally destroy lives and communities.

While we all like to think they could never happen to us, in 2017, many realized it could. This has led to a renewed interest in crisis communications plans across the aging services sector, with providers dusting off their three-ring binders, updating their plans and expanding them to include new media. One question that we often hear is, “What are the key things I should have in my crisis communications plan?” While an article such as this provides too little space to detail a full plan, we can share with you the three things that we look for in creating, revising or updating a crisis communications plan.

1. Is your leadership trained to talk to the media?

The aging services field has long benefited from sustained tenure in the C-Suite. Executives, especially CEOs, often stay with an organization for many years, becoming the face and voice of the brand. They become comfortable with local news organizations and inherently know how to speak to them through a lifetime of experience. Now many of those seasoned leaders are retiring, and a new crop of executives is taking over.

These new leaders may not be prepared to deal with a media firestorm that can explode after a tragedy. Taking some time, and budget dollars, for training your leadership in media relations could be a vital investment. There’s an art to speaking to reporters, especially when information is scarce and you are trying to be both honest with the public yet protect the privacy and safety of your residents, employees and volunteers. For these reasons, we heartily recommend media training for your leadership team.

2. Who is responsible for managing the digital media response?

When tragedy strikes, one of the first places people now turn to is digital media, such as Facebook, Twitter and the web. Have you incorporated these outlets into your crisis communications plan? Is there a system in place for the person responsible for updating these channels to receive approved messaging and post it in a timely manner?

Experienced social media and web managers are usually able to handle an onslaught of information requests, but in many aging services groups, the task of digital media management is left to the marketing team or a small team of communications professionals on the corporate level (who may not even be in the same area as an affected community). This is why it’s so crucial to identify a process for information disclosure through these channels, including who can approve a release of details, who will be doing the actual publishing of the information and a chain of command for answering difficult questions in a timely manner.

3. Are you prepared to deal with the aftermath?

The first 24 hours after an event occurs are the most critical — and, in the moment, may seem the most stressful. Are you and your team prepared for the intense scrutiny and stress that will come once the initial dust has settled?

For example, in the case of Barclay Friends, reporters immediately went digging for information about anything and everything related to the community. They quickly uncovered issues with fire protection equipment reported earlier in the year, placing a new focus on the community and creating another aspect for the media to latch onto. As investigations unfold and causes are determined, you should have a plan in place for managing media relationships in the weeks and months after an event occurs.

We get it — no one wants to think about dealing with a crisis. It’s also very difficult to show a return on investment for the costs of developing a crisis communications plan. At Varsity, we like to think of it as insurance. It’s a product that you pay for in hopes that you never have to use it, but it provides a peace of mind that can’t be overestimated Plus, should an event occur, you’ll be glad that you had a plan in place.

DRAGON: Divorced, Rich, Aged 65+, Overseas traveler, Networker

If you were to ask an aging services provider what his or her ideal potential resident looks like, you’d find many different definitions. In most cases, leads are qualified based upon income-producing assets, home value and, perhaps, some additional savings and/or investments. These people are ideal leads because they meet all of the financial criteria for moving into a community.

For this reason, they are prized candidates, often being competed over by several different aging services organizations. From the point of view of prospective residents, they are evaluating the amenities and floor plans that communities offer. But, at the end of the day, the biggest determining factor for choosing a community is culture. This is where understanding the DRAGON can help you convert those high-quality leads into residents.

The idea of the DRAGON coalesced around 2014, as marketers began to identify trends in the Baby Boomer demographic. For retirement communities, DRAGONS are ideals candidates because of their demographic profiles. They are wealthy, usually working with two retirement incomes. Being aged 65+, they meet the age requirements for community entry. As frequent travelers, they like the maintenance-free lifestyle that many campuses offer and, for the same reason, are less reliant year-round on on-campus amenities, such as restaurants, wellness centers and programming. Last, as natural networkers, they become excellent word-of-mouth marketers for your organization and can sing your praises to their friends and family, who may also fit the DRAGON demographic.

Identifying DRAGONs, and understanding why they are especially important leads for retirement communities, is just the start. How do you win them over and make them choose your community over all of the other options? The answer is simple — culture. As noted earlier, individuals make their retirement choices based heavily on the culture and feel of a community. Making your community physically appealing to DRAGONs is the first step. The harder step is getting the culture right. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes and look at what might be appealing to DRAGONs.

First, they may look to more open and accepting cultures, especially in light of being divorced. Obviously, the community needs to be well-appointed and include many options and amenities. These work best in a community atmosphere where DRAGONs can spend time with friends and neighbors, where their natural networking talent shines. As travelers, they desire easy access to transportation, whether that is a train station or airport (but probably both!). Obviously, issues like location and access to transportation aren’t easily addressed by providers. In those cases, organizations should be ready to demonstrate what kind of accommodations they can make to ensure DRAGON needs are met, or alternatives offered that may better suit their lifestyle.

Take a few moments to put yourself in the shoes of a DRAGON and look at your community through his or her eyes. By doing so, you might be able to adjust your sales & marketing strategies, even if only slightly, to make a big difference in your appeal.

Recently, I had the honor of participating in the Global Aging Network conference. It was held in a simply amazing location — Montreux, Switzerland, known best, perhaps, as a mecca for jazz music. I came away from my visit to Montreux inspired and energized by simply seeing the sights in and around the beautiful city.

The conference experience represented a unique opportunity to freshen my perspective around opportunities to enhance the aging experience on a global scale. Leaders from around the world traveled to Montreux, with their own biases shaped by how their particular cultures view aging. I certainly came with my own preconceived notions about how successful aging looks, based upon my narrow worldview.

What inspired me as the conference progressed was the ever-increasing ease I saw as people from different points of view came together to solve similar issues of aging, regardless of the culture in which they lived. There are nuances within any society — and family — about how aging occurs; however, as we simply share our stories openly with those from other corners of the world, it quickly becomes evident that we are all working toward solving issues of frailty, loneliness and the ultimate commonality of our collective mortality.

Our opportunity, as aging service professionals, is to work collaboratively to enhance the aging experience for those entrusting their lives to us. I believe we can do that more effectively if we openly entertain ideas that may seem distinctly different from our own. I recognize cultural and societal differences require flexibility, but our ability to secure a global perspective on aging has never been easier.

I left Montreux with a fresh glimpse of aging in the 21st century, and I must admit — it’s invigorating to network with people who envision far more engaged aging adults, embracing life to its fullest, as they are being served wherever they call home. There are countless aging services professionals around the globe innovating the aging experience, and it is our responsibility to leverage the intellectual capital that makes this market sector so special.

My challenge to colleagues is rather simple: Don’t underestimate the power of sharing your ideas; seriously consider those ideas that seem just a bit outside your comfort zone, and find ways to rekindle the passions that drive the mission behind your everyday work. Let’s seize the opportunity before us to make aging experiences better for those we serve.

One of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of being involved in the aging services space is the ability to look around the country (and the world) at how different organizations are applying trends in design. From the upscale, fast-paced communities of the Northeast to the eco-friendly, fitness-focused communities on the West Coast, communities are applying innovations in new and creative ways — all in an effort to appeal to potential residents and earn their business.

The most ubiquitous design trend to hit senior living in the last five years has to be the bistro — every community seems to have one. Whether it was designed from the ground up and newly installed or an existing space that was repurposed, the bistro has become as common as the dining hall of old. This has caused us to wonder: What’s the next bistro-type amenity that every community is going to have to build?

We believe that the answer is a wellness center. New residents aren’t happy with an exercise bike and a treadmill stashed in a closet being labeled as a “workout room.” They want a bright, airy space, with dedicated and trained staff members, wherein they can attend to their wellness needs, which go far beyond exercise. Progressive communities are offering the latest in high-tech fitness gear, supplemented with wellness practitioners from across the spectrum, such as yoga, Reiki and acupuncture. It is our prediction that, in five to 10 years, those communities that have failed to funnel resources into their wellness amenities are going to struggle to find residents.

As Baby Boomers continue to age into the retirement community marketplace, they bring with them a hallmark of their age group — the “Me Generation.” No longer will potential residents review a property and say, “Well, I guess we can make this work.” Rather, they are demanding the ability to customize and personalize their new living spaces. And two options just won’t do it! They want to see the gamut of materials, styles and finishes enabling them to feel like their new home is truly their own. Marketers have to adapt to these desires at a rapid pace. Where once facilities could flip an apartment for resale in a week, now it may take several months to bring a space up to the standards of its new owner. Finding creative ways to enable flips to occur quickly and economically is sure to be a growing trend.

In many parts of the country, residents are also becoming more environmentally conscious, demanding that their homes reflect their values. Recycling, the use of low-energy appliances and lights and sustainably sourced food products are just the tip of the iceberg. Communities are now looking to the installation of solar panels for energy production — not just for homes, but also for common areas. Resident gardens are also increasing in size, as dining services teams are being challenged to include the ultimate in fresh ingredients: those grown by the residents themselves, on-site. Some organizations are looking to these trends as opportunities to grow and improve, while others are struggling to keep up and find their place in the market.

As we work with our clients around the country, it always intrigues us to see who is pushing the boundaries of the current trends and who is taking extra time to evaluate what others are doing and put their own, unique spin on it. Whichever type of community you may be in, it’s our opinion at Varsity that these trends are going to be major factors in senior living design into 2018 and well beyond!

Resident entertainment is an important part of life at retirement communities. Whether you label it “life enrichment,” “activities,” “resident programming” or something else, the desired result is often the same — engaged residents. However, what residents find enjoyable and engaging today is very different from 10 years ago. This led us to wonder: What will this field look like in the future? As the Boomer wave crests, and Generation X looks to retirement, how will that impact resident programming?

The youngest Baby Boomers are about 53 years old now. That means that, in fewer than 10 years, they are going to be the target market for retirement marketing professionals. In the same vein, however, this means that the oldest Gen-Xers are also aging into the target market rapidly. Providers are going to have to adapt to these changing tastes and demographics at all levels of the business.

Let’s start with our marketing events. Today, popular events include lunch & learns, perhaps with entertainment. Common choices include doo-wop groups, Motown covers and some big band favorites. However, 10 to 15 years from now, those tastes are going to drastically change; instead of Sinatra, your events may be headed by the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Are you ready to employ acts that perform disco favorites? Or maybe you’ll have a Pink Floyd experience before showing off your latest model apartments. It’ll be a whole new world.

Once you get the residents in the door, your internal activities team will take over and begin planning events that appeal to this newer generation of residents. Sure, the old favorites will still be there — arboretums, shopping trips and museums — but we can anticipate some of the new trends just by looking at the changing interests of current residents. Home brewing, wine making, model aircraft and drones, motorcycle riding and more have already made their way onto campuses. To these, you might add Lego enthusiasts, skiers and snowboarders and avant-garde film connoisseurs. No longer will you be playing “Singing in the Rain” for the Friday night films; instead, you might be screening old favorites by Otto Preminger, Federico Fellini or Kenneth Anger.

Tastes in food will also begin to morph. Communities all over the country are already implementing international cuisine into their menus for special events. This trend is going to not only grow but explode, as residents want to adventure to new places with their taste buds. Remember, Generation X and their juniors have grown up in a society where eating out is pretty common. This is sure to have impacted their tastes and preferences in dining, making them even more demanding than current residents.

The demands on your physical facility are also going to grow. Communities are already repositioning their offerings, becoming more like resorts every day. The next generation of residents will want spaces and living environments that work for them and meet their unique needs. Remember, Baby Boomers (and, to a lesser extent, Generation X) are the original “Me Generations.” If your campus doesn’t have the amenities, living spaces and extras that potential residents desire, you are going to have an uphill battle.

Certainly, it’s fun to theorize what will happen in the future — man has been doing it for thousands of years. While we still don’t have flying cars, robot lawn mowers or devices that can read our minds, we can see the immediate future — and it includes smart home technology, better wellness facilities and an increased desire for the finer things in life.

What will your campus look like in 10 years? The choice is yours, and you are making it every day.

Many of us have fond memories of going to summer camp as children. Hiking through mountains, boating on a lake, shooting archery and learning crafts are all a part of the common memories that many share. But, as we age, we leave those summer days behind, letting them create a bygone era in our mind, when summers were carefree and fun — fortunately, though, that no longer needs to be the case.

Take, for instance, Camp Meraki. Marketed as a retirement camp for seniors, the program runs in the early fall at John Knox Ranch, in Wimberley, Texas. During the hot summer months, the camp runs activities for children, but as the cooler fall temperatures approach, it welcomes a different crowd of those 60+. The activities, however, are largely the same, including canoeing, archery, crafts, stargazing, sing-alongs and more! Oh, and don’t forget the one activity you won’t find at a kids camp — happy hour! The camp runs for three days and two nights, letting campers relive their childhood memories in a fun and safe environment.

Now we’re sure you’re thinking something along the lines of, “That’s all well and good, but my community isn’t in Texas, so this doesn’t really apply to me.” Au contraire! This is an opportunity for your community to do something new and intriguing.

First, you could work with your life enrichment/therapeutic recreation staff to create a camp experience right at your community. While it wouldn’t necessarily be as involved as the Camp Meraki, it could make for a unique program that sets you apart from your local competition. Make sure to include all of the important camp activities — s’more making, campfire sings and arts and crafts!

For those who want to take this one step further, how about contacting your local youth camp and consider setting up a senior camp of your own? You could invite not only your residents, but also prospective residents. It would be a great way for them to get to know your community and could easily provide three days of marketing opportunities for your sales staff. Now that’s a quality program that will differentiate you from your competition!

We love the idea of Camp Meraki here at Varsity. It shows that older adults can enjoy activities that are more commonly attributed to youth. It also helps with memory care and brain stimulation by bringing back those thoughts of childhood and reconnecting people with skills they otherwise might have lost. It’s truly a win-win for everyone involved.


American culture values youth, vitality and enthusiasm far more than age, wisdom and experience. In contrast to this, we find Eastern cultures — such as Japan, Vietnam and Korea — where veneration and obedience to one’s elders is the cultural norm — except in the workplace. As Western influences continue to be exported to these countries, their views on the aged are also changing. EverYoung, a new start-up in Seoul, has recognized this issue and is addressing it, head-on.

Founded by Chung Eunsung, a 56-year-old veteran executive, EverYoung aims to leverage the knowledge and skill found in older workers to make Korea more competitive in the global market. The company specializes in teaching older workers basic computer skills that enable them to do work for Naver, the Google of South Korea. The workers do routine monitoring and assist with reporting and censoring information as mandated by the government. Those with advance computing skills are encouraged to teach coding classes to children.

The culture of the company is also important. Workers only have four-hour shifts, enabling them to spend time with family as they desire. The benefits package is also very rich — with special attention paid to wellness-related measures — all in an effort to keep an aging workforce healthy and active. Oh, and don’t forget the after-work social programs, such as the company rock band!

While all of this sounds nice from a personal standpoint, does it make sense for business? Initially, the company had 30 employees. Now, it has more than 400. According to government data, more than 13 percent of Korea’s current population is over 55+, but by 2030, that number will skyrocket to nearly 25 percent. In a society where workers are routinely forced to retire before they hit the age of 60, EverYoung’s model is set to scoop up talented employees that might not otherwise find work — and competition for the jobs is fierce.

In Korea, the state doesn’t provide much by way of retirement benefits, forcing retirees to rely on their young relatives for basic needs, often living in the same home with them (a very foreign concept for the Western world). EverYoung provides a source of income for this population, but it goes beyond that. It also provides a sense of worth and combats the psychological pressures of aging, such as loneliness and withdrawal.

Retirement communities in the United States are often very adept at putting their residents “to work,” offering them volunteer opportunities that enable them to contribute to their communities. However, as the Baby Boomers age out of the workforce and into the world of retirement, their demands for meaningful community contribution are going to increase. Stateside companies would do well to adopt the EverYoung model, as this “new” workforce is right around the corner and could be a great boon — both for the individuals and for business.

The 2017 Power of Purpose session is in the books, and the member organizations of LeadingAge Tennessee experienced a great conference. The speakers all delivered interesting and informative messages that helped to educate and inspire. I was able to take in several sessions during the event and wanted to share with you the three items that really struck as important takeaways for all attendees.

The unimportance of an office

I thoroughly enjoyed Duane Cummings, the keynote speaker who opened the conference. His message on leadership and putting people in the right place for them to succeed is something I truly aspire to. But one point really resonated with me: Duane doesn’t have an office at his organization. Rather, he ensures that all his key employees have their space, and he meets them there. It reminds him to be a servant leader and takes the fear out of a chat with the CEO.

While retirement communities are often dealing with sensitive information, and therefore need private office spaces, I believe his point is still salient. It speaks to the need for executive directors and C-suite personnel to get out of their offices and walk the communities they serve. It’s far too easy for us to get stuck in our daily routines and never leave our offices, processing that precious paperwork that never seems to end. Getting out for that daily walk not only makes you more present, but can serve as a morale booster to both residents and employees.

Reposition with a purpose

Tye Campbell of SCFS presented an excellent session on some of the repositioning and construction work that his firm has done in the last decade. Every one of those communities had something in common; they all worked hard to incorporate green design and local flavor into their updates and upgrades. This trend isn’t new in the aging services space, but Tye’s presentation reinforced just how important these considerations are as organizations contemplate their next move.

SCFS has also experienced a dramatic rise in the desire for common spaces in senior living. Tye noted that, in several instances, the pools, bistros and other dining areas that SCFS has built are so popular with residents that they seem too small on the very day they open. Those looking to expand should listen up on this point — don’t go small just because of budgets. Think about how much use the space will get, as it’s better to built a slightly larger space now than to try to retrofit or expand a space later.

Plants, leaves and the color green

While this might be a bit self-serving, Seth Anthony, our communications manager at Varsity, made an interesting point during our session on branding that I hadn’t previously considered. It also happened to get the most laughter and nods of agreement of any part of the presentation, so I had to include it in this list.

We, at Varsity, value our ability to bring a fresh perspective to our clients during our brand odyssey. Seth aptly pointed out one area in which aging services organizations aren’t doing a good job at being fresh — their logos! Try this exercise, and you’ll see what I mean! Go to and search for “senior living logos.” You’ll notice that a large portion of logos include one of three elements: plants and trees, leaves and the color green. As organizations work hard to differentiate themselves in an ever-more-competitive market, having a logo that looks and feels much like your competitors can make it hard to truly stand out. I know I’ll be taking a more critical look at aging services logos in the future!

I’d like to extend my thanks to LeadingAge Tennessee for another great event in Nashville. Its hospitality is always spot-on, and you certainly can’t beat an evening out

You’re excited. This is the day you’ve been waiting for since that fateful date nearly 12 months ago. You’ve spent hundreds of hours planning and designing, making sure everything is right. You’ve met with dozens of vendors and have a script for how the whole day should go. That’s right — it’s launch day for your new website!

But, three months later, you’ve realized that there was a hole in your plan. That new website is starting to feel stale already. The pictures haven’t changed. The blog hasn’t been updated. Your integrated Facebook and Twitter feeds are displaying posts that are already two months old. Getting the website to launch was such hard work, you assumed it would be all downhill once it went live. However, now you realize that that was the simple part; finding time to curate content, post updates on social media, change out photos and respond to inquiries isn’t just hard — it’s nearly impossible.

We’ve seen this time and time again within the senior living space. Finding the time to actively manage the digital presence of the organization is a big challenge. Many communities leave this task to marketing or sales managers who have to choose between posting a nice photo or having a conversation that could lead to a sale. Of course, the sale will always take priority, leaving the digital presence to stagnate over time. Finding quick, shareable content may be slightly easier than you realize, though. We have three proven strategies that will help you find additional engaging content quickly!

  1. Don’t be a lone warrior.
    Amazing, shareable stories are happening around your community every single day, but you’re only one person. That’s why you need to enlist the help of your employees and residents. Start creating a culture of shareable moments today by encouraging others to share their moments with you. Yes, there are some pitfalls that have to be avoided regarding photo releases, but a little bit of training with your staff and residents could produce huge dividends in the form of wonderful, engaging photographs and stories that you might not have ever heard about otherwise.
  2. Think small.
    Whenever your community is holding a big event or celebration, it’s easy to find shareable moments. Veteran events, innovative programs and food tastings always make for good content. However, it’s the smaller, daily moments that really make your social presence something special. If Mrs. Johnson is always walking her poodle around your community, stop and ask to take a picture. Share Mrs. Johnson and Fido with the rest of the world. After all, they are a part of the fabric of life for your residents. Showing families and potential residents what life is like at your community, day in and day out, is really important for a long-term social media strategy.
  3. Stop being a perfectionist.
    Everybody wants their organization to look its best. However, just like a person, there are going to be slight imperfections that crop up. Maybe that picture of a vibrant, exciting resident shows another resident in the background in a motorized chair. That’s okay! That’s real life at your community. Yes, in pre-planned advertising, such as print or television, you’ll want perfectly shot, model-quality photographs, but social media is meant to capture everyday life. None of us look like models every day, and we can’t expect our communities and residents to do so, either.

Generating content for social media and blogs doesn’t have to be difficult. Your social media feed should feel like someone is walking the halls of your community, experiencing what life is like. It should never feel like they are enduring a sales pitch or having a digital “lunch and learn.” Be true to your community and show off what life is genuinely like there, and you’ll soon have more content than you ever thought imaginable!






LeadingAge PA is well known for an outstanding annual conference. In 2017, it only bolstered its reputation further with a well-organized and highly educational event. The Varsity team was out in full force at this year’s conference, meeting with old friends, making new ones and keeping abreast of the changes in the senior services industry. As I reflect on the event, I find that I had three takeaways that will certainly impact how I approach those we serve and their residents.

1) Residential living will give way to more in-home services.

James Orlikoff’s presentation on the shifting macroeconomics of health care and the shifting demographics of aging services was incredibly profound. During his presentation, he discussed how the United States has become mired in the current health care system we have and what impact it will have on the future of senior services. What really drove his point home, however, was the story of his own father who eschewed a retirement community until the very last minute, preferring instead to live at home with a caregiver. Not only was this option less expensive, but it also provided the peace of living your last days in your home. This is the type of care that many are going to begin seeking out. If senior living providers aren’t taking these desires into account, they may quickly find themselves left behind. As one colleague put it, “I didn’t like hearing what he had to say, but I needed to hear it. Things are going to change.”

2) Senior living providers must become more transparent.

Over the course of several presentations throughout the week, I was struck by how often the word “transparent” kept popping up. Whether the topic was crisis communications, survey results, marketing materials or the relationship with your board, communities must work to become as transparent as possible. In today’s social climate, where surveys and 990s rule the day, organizations cannot try to hide their foibles and hope no one finds out. Recognizing your challenges up front — and providing a plan to address them in a timely manner — is what’s expected. If there are issues at your community, whether real or perceived, act now to address them and, if needed, bring in an outside professional to help.

3) Community culture can’t be forced.

Much discussion was had regarding the culture of senior living providers —from how they treat their residents and staff to the impact they have in their local communities. These cultures are often quite strong, with well-established missions, values and goals. Increasingly, potential residents aren’t just evaluating the pricing scheme and floor plans of a prospective community, but also the culture of life there. While your culture and values may be very important to you, imposing them on potential residents could quickly become a turn-off. This isn’t to say that strong values are bad. Rather, we encourage you to better understand those values and be ready to articulate how residents of any background can embrace them. As James Orlikoff said in his presentation:

“Those senior services providers were quick to tell us what they were about. They told us about their missions and values. They were proud of the cultures they created. But not one of them stopped to ask my father about his values and what he wanted. It was a ‘take it or leave it’ proposition. He chose to leave it and go out on his terms.”

We certainly enjoyed #Connect17 with our LeadingAge PA friends. Kudos to the organizers, directors and staff, who created a fantastic event that certainly will change the way nonprofit senior service providers in Pennsylvania approach resident care!

Let’s face it — no one wants to think about something catastrophic happening at their community. Fires, floods and earthquakes are all very real possibilities that communities must prepare for. In modern times, we’ve also added situations, such as active shooters, elopements and bomb threats to the canon of issues communities should be prepared to handle. With this in mind, many organizations provide extensive training to employees who would have to respond to these events in hopes that they can keep residents safe and minimize physical damage to property and systems. However, there is another more serious type of damage that communities might face — a damaged reputation from poor communication.

To be clear, at absolutely no time should any organization try to preserve its reputation at the cost of others’ safety. That’s not what I’m talking about at all! Rather, I’m focusing on the story that comes out after one of these events occurs. In the world of public relations, this is referred to as crisis communication. Being able to keep cool and relay important information in the face of adversity is a skill that most people don’t inherently have, even in the best of times. Now, imagine yourself in a highly stressful situation where you are being asked tough questions and accused of malfeasance. At that moment, how you react to reporters and interested parities can either set minds at ease or exacerbate a problem to new heights.

Most communities don’t have the luxury of having an on-site, dedicated communications person. Usually, communications is handled at a corporate level or is defaulted to an employee in an adjacent field, such as marketing or human resources. These individuals are rarely prepared to handle an emerging situation, and corporate’s ability to respond may lag for a variety of reasons. News agencies today aren’t going to sit idly by while they wait for your PR director show up and take control of the situation. They are going to start fleshing out a story wherever they can find it, probably embellishing along the way in hopes of making the situation more interesting for viewers and readers. It’s in those critical moments, immediately after an event occurs, that you need to take control of the story.

To accomplish this, we recommend that every community have the following three items in place:

  1. Resident, employee and family emergency alert system — Technology today makes this very easy. If there is an incident at your community at any time, you should have a system in place to immediately and efficiently contact current residents and their family members. The communications that go out on these broadcasts should be prepared in advance (as much as possible) and speak to the safety of those involved. In an emergency, the first concern loved ones have is for the physical well-being of their family members. Addressing those types of questions is your top priority.
  2. Contact information for leadership — Communities should have a list of contact information for key officials that will be more able to handle difficult questions. This can help redirect reporters to individuals that they can talk to and alleviate the stress being put on staff that might be asked to comment on an issue.
  3. Training for staff — Your staff should know and understand your policies about who can and can’t make statements on behalf of the organization. Employees generally know they shouldn’t try to act as representatives, but they may be asked by a reporter about what they saw or experienced personally. Until a situation is under control, employees shouldn’t respond to these questions at all. Therefore, providing a bit of training and information before an issue arises can help to mitigate any comments that might be made later on.

Every community owes it to its residents to have plans in place for a myriad number of emergencies — and most already have done this. However, it’s important that they take these exercises a step further and imagine the role that timely communications will play in incident response. Maintenance and security might be prepared for the next calamity, but is your executive director ready? How about sales & marketing? Now is the time to address these issues, before an incident occurs.



Smart homes are all the rage these days, with many nearly constructed dwellings having built-in smart technology, such as connected thermostats, locks and lighting. For individuals or communities looking to retrofit existing structures with this technology, the price tag can be pretty high. However, there are ways to add these amenities to existing structures without breaking the bank. For less than $850 per home, an existing unit can be upgraded with smart technology. Here’s how.

Amazon Echo Show with an additional Echo Dot — $270

The Amazon Echo was an amazing device, but Amazon really upped its game with the Echo Show. This new piece of technology incorporates a screen, along with voice command capabilities.

The Echo serves as the hub for smart home technology, syncing seamlessly with key devices in your home. By using voice commands, the unit will turn lights on and off, change the temperature, provide reminders and much more.

We also recommend the addition of an Echo Dot, which will expand the systems capabilities by adding a satellite station. The Echo Show unit should be placed in a common area, such as a living room or kitchen. The Echo Dot is a smaller, voice-only-activated device that is perfect for the bedroom. The Dot can perform nearly all of the functions of the larger unit, but in a size more suitable for the bedside table.

Nest G3 thermostat — $250

Nest is the industry leader in smart home heating and cooling. This thermostat will sync wireless with the Echo unit, allowing you to raise or lower the temperature of your home with a simple voice command. The Nest also learns the patterns of your home, raising the temperature during key awake times and lowering it automatically when you’re sleeping or away. This automated learning helps to save money on costly heating and cooling bills, making it a no-brainer for inclusion.

Philips Hue starter pack with two additional bulbs — $110

Philips has developed a very sharp product with its Hue range of light bulbs and accessories. Each bulb fits into a regular, existing fixture, whether it be a table lamp or an overhead light. Once installed, the bulbs will sync with your in-home system so that you can order the lights on, off or dimmed with a simple voice command. If you want to get even fancier, you can upgrade your bulbs so that they can change color, providing hues from across the entire spectrum. One of the best features of these lights is that they can also be controlled from your smartphone, so if you’re coming home late, you can turn on all of the lights in the house before you even open the garage door!

Schlade Z-Wave Connect Century Deadbolt — $200

Have you ever settled into bed for the evening and wondered, “Did I lock the front door?” Of course you have! It’s at that moment that you have the conversation in your head about whether or not to get up from your cozy spot to go check. With the addition of this Schlade lock, however, you’ll never have to do that again. The lock connects to your Echo system, allowing you to open and close it with a voice command. It also offers the convenience of a keypad for an unlock code, in addition to the use of a regular key. Our favorite feature, however, is the built-in alarm system. It operates in three modes — alter, tamper and forced entry. This will allow you to know if someone happens to come through your door (such as a neighbor or maintenance worker) or if someone has tried to breach the lock through devious means. Oh, and it will send those alerts to your Echo and your smartphone, giving you around-the-clock notice of everything that is happening in the home.

So, there you have it. For a mere $830, any home can be upgraded to include the key features of modern smart homes. Plus, by offering the Amazon Echo as the key component of the system, homeowners can continue to add additional devices to the system. This makes a great marketing tool for retirement communities, as for just a small investment, they can advertise a modern (and expandable) product to potential residents.

Nonprofit life plan communities are incredibly focused on their mission and values. These qualities generally start with their board of directors in collaboration with senior leadership. However, the board isn’t at the community every day, working directly with those involved in carrying out the mission. The vision they so eloquently craft during their quarterly meetings may not meet the everyday needs of associates and residents. Getting your board of directors actively engaged in your community can create positive changes that can have a ripple effect throughout the entire organization. But how do you go about it?

We asked the leadership team at Saint John’s On The Lake, Milwaukee’s premier retirement community, how they engage their board of directors, which includes community and faith-based leaders that share a unified vision. Renee E. Anderson, president and CEO, offers some great suggestions!

Says Anderson, “Outside of the seven board of directors meetings per year, board members serve on one committee, which typically includes both leadership and residents. Board members are frequently seen enjoying life on campus — attending lectures, concerts, dining, using the gym and the pool or visiting family, friends or parishioners.”

Anderson’s statement provides some clear insights into how Saint John’s board is more than just a steering committee. Ensuring that your board feels comfortable visiting your community and utilizing its resources alongside residents and associates can have a significant effect. By being actively involved, they become visible members of the greater community, creating personal relationships with those they serve. Naturally, this will lead them to think about the impact their decisions have on those living there day to day.

Also, it should be noted that using board members on committees is critical. Where possible, these committee assignments should be directly related to a director’s personal and professional talents. It makes sense to have accountants on the finance committee and skilled trades professionals working with the facilities team, but don’t pigeonhole your directors so quickly! Give them an opportunity to express interests in the committee work to which they’d like to be assigned. If someone is crunching numbers all day professionally, he or she might be eager to serve on the resident relations committee, as it provides a new and interesting challenge that he or she might not otherwise face.

Keeping the board engaged as business leaders is also important. Luci Klebar, director of sales for Saint John’s On The Lake, provides some insight into how leadership stays apprised of the issues that impact operations.

She says, “The Board meets quarterly and receives a financial update and leadership update. Additionally, a dashboard that identifies KPI on which the organization is working overall is provided. If there are variances to goal, brief reports are provided.”

Klebar highlights another tactic for an engaged board — consistency. By providing a standardized report that includes performance indicators and goals, directors stay focused on the most important items and are able to compare apples to apples between meetings. Optimizing communications in this way will also make for more efficient and productive meetings.

Every board of directors is different, and what engages one board might not be suitable for another. Knowing what individual passions have brought your board members to the team will provide you with critical insights into how they can become an integral part of the organization’s leadership. New board members look to those already serving, including senior management, to find their role. In short, give them something to do that they both enjoy and find meaning in, and your board will be better for it!

Anyone who has worked at a retirement community, for even a short length of time, has encountered a resident that never receives visitors. The situations may vary from case to case, with one resident having no children or family, while another has an extensive family network that happens to live far away. Regardless of the reasons, lack of social interactions with the one’s you love will leave anyone in the doldrums. If this continues long enough, mental health issues could arise, leading to more severe repercussions. It’s important for residents to have visitors that actively engage with them. But, how do you encourage family and friends to come visit when, more often than not, the last place they want to spend their Saturday is hanging around a retirement community?

In 2010, the CDC conducted a survey at residential care facilities, asking participants how many times  a resident received a visitor from outside the community. While visitation frequency varied among the group, 8 percent of those surveys received no outside visitors in 90 days. Extrapolating this, how many residents does your community have? That means, for every 100 residents, roughly eight of them have not had any outside contact in the last month. Now that’s a statistic to be concerned about.

As a community, it behooves senior living providers to make visitation not only easy, but also enjoyable for everyone. Taking a creative look at ways to engage residents, their families and friends will help encourage more frequent visitations and improved morale.

Some ideas include:

  • Mani/pedi day, where residents and their families can schedule a manicure with a professional at your community. Make sure to provide plenty of magazines and really go for the full salon experience!
  • Provide designated areas for dogs at your community. This way, families can bring their pets for a day with a resident.
  • Schedule a bus trip to a local restaurant and invite the family to have a meal with the resident outside of your community.
  • Plan a movie night, with a newer film that families may not have seen before. Bring in a popcorn machine and candy to really provide the full movie-viewing experience!
  • Families can bring unfolded laundry and visit while folding it. Yes, this sounds incredibly strange, but look at it from another angle. Many residents spent years being productive and contributing to their households. The ability to feel useful and needed again can be a big ego boost to someone who doesn’t see many visitors (but, make sure the resident is okay with this before coming with your duffel full of clothes!)
  • Organize a resident-family scavenger hunt. This provides time for meaningful interaction with the resident, as well an opportunity to explore the community.
  • Host a traveling zoo! Many local zoological societies have a traveling zoo that they can bring to your community. Residents and families alike will love this event!
  • Produce a trivia night, just like at the local pub! Many times, events are geared toward families with children. But what about having a pub trivia night? Offer adult beverages and hire a professional to host the game. This could encourage 20-somethings to visit and engage with their relatives when they might not otherwise!
  • Many communities have cooking classes or demonstrations already. Why not have one that is family-oriented, where children and grandchildren can assist the resident in making a delicious dish for all to share!
  • For those active residents, how about an on-site sports league with family and friends! Billiards, bowling, bocce and tennis make a great option. Pairing an active resident with a younger family member in a multi-week league will provide a great reason for ongoing interactions.

The key to all of these ideas is simple — by creating a little bit of enticement, you can encourage residents’ families to visit more frequently, having more meaningful interactions in the process. At the end of the day, this will not only make your community happier and more lively, but it will give you a unique niche in the marketplace that many other organizations aren’t yet exploring.

The Better Business Bureau has declared May National Moving Month, a time when the rate of moves from one living situation to another dramatically increases. This trend can be seen across many demographics, from college students leaving their dorms to begin careers, to homeowners making a change. According to the United States Census Bureau, about one in nine Americans changes domicile every year, meaning that roughly 40 million of us will celebrate New Year’s Eve at a new home when 2017 comes to a close.

Moving is often cited as one of the most stressful events for people. The process of packing up one’s life and shipping it off to somewhere new is stressful enough. Top it off with the mountain of address changes, changing utilities and new municipalities, and it’s easy to understand how the whole process can be overwhelming! Now, let’s imagine that you’re 70 years old and haven’t had to move in 30 to 40 years. How daunting a task must that move be! That is exactly the situation that new retirement community residents are in.

As retirement community marketers and specialists, we realize that the biggest competitors a retirement community has aren’t other senior living options. Rather, it’s the home the potential residents are already in. As they contemplate the move, they begin to look around their homes and realize the scope of the task at hand. Cleaning out all of those closets full of memories, changing neighbors and routines, along with having to sell the home causes retirees an incredible amount of stress. How can communities overcome this?

It’s simple, really — solve the problem!

Okay, it sounds simple, but we know that it’s really not. Every potential resident is different. The challenges that one individual finds overwhelming can be completely unassuming to another. It’s the job of the sales person/marketer to listen closely to what the customer is saying, work toward identifying the problem, and then offer a solution. Sales are more often won by listening instead of talking!

Let’s use an example scenario for what this might look like in real life.

Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins have looked at your community for several months. They’ve come to events and have proven a solid lead. But you just can’t get them to sign on the dotted line. Time is running out, and soon they’ll be forced onto the waiting list if they don’t make a decision. You call the couple, getting Mr. Jenkins on the line. You explain the situation to him in hopes that you can push through to the sale. Mr. Jenkins remains reluctant, however. He seems particularly hung up on your pet policy, since he loves his bulldog, Bluto. You remind him that your community welcomes pets and that there are plenty of other dogs in the neighborhood where the Jenkins would reside. Still, he seems wary. When you push him about coming for another visit, he hands the phone over to his wife. You mention to Mrs. Jenkins about the pet policy and try to reassure her that Bluto would make a fine addition to the neighborhood. That’s when you find out what the real problem is. Bluto has been having some health troubles the last few months and has been to the vet several times. He’s on some new medications, and Mr. Jenkins is wary of having to switch vets in order to move to your community. Eureka! Now you know what the problem is and how to solve it.

How would you go about solving this sales problem? Perhaps you’d provide the Jenkins a list of nearby vets. But what can you do to really build the relationship and seal the deal? Perhaps you could arrange a meeting between the Jenkins and a local veterinarian that has a good relationship with the community. Maybe host a resident-lead event where they can bring out their pets to meet with the vet. Getting creative about solving the problem can make the difference between a missed opportunity and a sale.

With so many people looking to move in May, now is the time to think about how you can make moving to your community easier. Having a toolbox of unique and helpful solutions will enable you to build better relationships by listening to prospect’s real needs more than trying to meet perceived ones.

As the annual United States tax-filing deadline looms near, many are scrambling to assemble their documents and get their returns filed on time. When a person is young, taxes always seem so simple, but as we age, and as our financial lives grow, taxes get more complicated. Children, mortgages, business expenses ­— they all play a factor in how much each of us pays to the government. Then, children move out, businesses get sold, and mortgages get paid off, leading people to believe that their taxes just got a bit easier. Don’t be fooled! Boomers and seniors can be missing out on some major tax benefits by taking the simple way out and paying less attention to their filings.

According to the Tax Policy Center, filers over the age of 65 are the largest single group to benefit from special provisions of the federal tax code. Some people refer to these provisions as “loopholes,” but they’re not! They are built into the tax code to specifically help aging adults that may not have a large or stable income as they exit the workforce.

Everyone has heard that they should pay a professional to do their taxes because they will get more money back. However, the expense of the professional may cut into those returns severely, especially for low to moderate-income households. For Boomers and seniors, there are government programs that will provide professional tax preparation at little to no cost. One such program, titled VITA, offers free tax help to people who make less than $52,000 and need assistance in preparing their return. Additionally, there is the TCE program that provides free tax help to people over 60. This program specializes in help with retirement investments, such as pensions and 401(k)s. For retirement communities, these programs can be especially helpful to residents and their families. Encourage your residents to take advantage of VITA and TCE, and provide a place for individuals to meet with the volunteers during tax season. Ensuring residents are financially stable is critical to keeping them in your community.

Specialized tax credits are also important for the Boomer and senior population. The Elderly and Disabled Tax Credit is probably the most well-known, but it requires the use of a 1040 form (as opposed to the 1040EZ) to receive it. If the filer, or his or her spouse, is 65 years or older or is under 65 and permanently disabled, he or she could qualify. The only catch is income level, which varies on how someone files. The maximum yearly income allowed is $25,000 for those that are married and file jointly, and both must qualify. While this does limit the number of people who qualify, nonprofit communities that provide mission-based services may have many residents that could take advantage of this program.

Having tax specialists present at lead-generating events and resident gatherings isn’t new. By doing so, the community provides information to potential residents that helps them understand their ability to retire. It also benefits the tax professionals, as they gain clients. It’s an idea that has worked in many instances, but what can you do to freshen it up?

Instead of inviting just one professional, how about asking several — all specializing in different fields — to attend? Having a “finance fair,” with a wide range of experts, could be a great draw. If you’re working with a higher-income bracket of potential residents, have an “investment symposium” that concentrates on issues relating to larger investment accounts. Both of these can be great ways to generate warm leads for your marketing strategy.

Helping your residents and potential residents understand tax issues is in your best interest. It can keep current residents in your community and aid potential residents in understanding how affordable life can be by retiring with you. Connecting these groups to tax preparation resources isn’t just a kind-hearted move; it’s a fiscally responsible one that has real-world benefits for everyone involved.


Across the country, census rates for assisted living facilities are seeing declines. Health care and insurance organizations are working ever harder to keep older adults needing assistance with daily living in their homes, where costs of care are lower. Of course, mature adults also like this trend as they get to remain in their home, which creates a perceived “win/win” for both groups.

Once the foundation of retirement communities, assisted living accommodations are continually being downsized, and their space repositioned for apartments, common spaces and other profit centers. However, many communities don’t have the time, money or desire to remodel to meet these changing trends. How do they keep assisted living census high and deliver quality service?

Get your leads from many, varied sources

As the retirement field adjusts to changes in health care, we realize that leads are going to come from an increasingly wider array of sources. The standards of direct mail and print advertising must now be supplemented with digital ads. The decision-makers for those needing assisted living are commonly their adult children, and even their grandchildren. These groups intuitively turn to the digital space for help finding options and making good decisions. If your community isn’t well-represented with an actionable website, and optimized for searches, you are going to miss out on potential leads — guaranteed.

Follow up using the correct medium and in a timely manner

If a potential resident or his or her family has reached out to you asking for more information, act with haste. Provide them with the information they asked for, in the way they requested it, in a timely manner. This means that if someone specifically requested to be emailed information, then respond with an email — don’t pick up the phone right and try to make a hard sell. People are becoming increasingly wary of giving out their personal information online because they don’t want to be on the receiving end of a sales call. Yes, follow up, but do so in the medium with which the prospect is most comfortable.

Retain the residents you have

It’s easy to get tied up in the race to find new residents, moving them in as soon as possible to raise your census. But what about the residents you already obtained? Of course you can’t help when a resident passes away, but you can deal with dissatisfaction among current residents and their families. If they feel they aren’t receiving the care and attention that is needed, or the services provided aren’t up to par, they can and will take their business elsewhere. You must be proactive in engaging with your current residents, finding out what their needs and preferences are and satisfying them. It used to be that “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” That’s not the case anymore. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re going to see diminishing returns by not keeping up with the desires of the market.




Potential residents and their families are increasingly turning to the internet to aid in their search for a retirement community. Nearly every community has a website, and most employ lead-generating tactics on them (contact page, downloadable brochures, etc.). But there is always room for improvement. Over a period of three weeks, we’ll provide you with three actionable tips that you can use to improve your digital footprint.

It’s Friday night, and you’re feeling great. You’re ready for an adventure, so you plan to try a new restaurant for dinner. Do you just pick one at random that you saw on a billboard? Probably not. You’re far more likely to give it a try if you’ve read glowing reviews on Yelp, Google or OpenTable. It makes sense, really. No one likes to go into a situation blind. The same sentiment goes for your potential residents.

The online reputation of your organization is just as critical to your success as Yelp reviews are to restaurants. The first step in improving that reputation is to know where people are looking for reviews. The biggest players, by far, are Google and Facebook. These sites allow you to review just about any product, with little to no oversight. Once a bad review appears on one of these pages, your only choice is to be open and transparent in your response. Unfortunately, most retirement communities aren’t even aware that these poor sentiments exist on the web — let alone how to respond to them.

One site that often gets overlooked is Glassdoor is an employment site where potential employees can go to find reviews of an organization. It allows users to rate the interview process, share benefits information and comment on how they were treated as an employee. Have you looked to see if your organization is being reviewed on Glassdoor? Perhaps now is the time — especially as the employment market for skilled professionals, such as nurses, is getting more competitive.

Knowing what is being said about your organization is just the start. At Varsity, we help our clients be proactive instead of reactive. Businesses need to be actively establishing and managing their online reputations and working to build positive reviews on key websites. That way, when someone searches for a community, they’ll be overwhelmed with the positive reviews, while the negative ones are pushed to the bottom of the page.

Potential residents and their families are increasingly turning to the internet to aid in their search for a retirement community. Nearly every community has a website, and most employ lead-generating tactics on them (contact page, downloadable brochures, etc.). But there is always room for improvement. Over a period of three weeks, we’ll provide you with three actionable tips that you can use to improve your digital footprint.

Today we’re tackling the every important “call to action.”

A call-to-action, often referred to as a “CTA,” is a tool used in web design to direct the user to do something that the website owner wants. In the old days, this was a blinking piece of text that shouted, “CLICK HERE!!!!” Today, the CTA has matured into buttons, forms and other interactions. These elements have converted websites from being static, digital brochures to engaging marketing tools that put the user in the driver’s seat when it comes to how they are advertised.

Retirement community CTAs are most often an attempt to get the user to provide some personal contact information so that he or she can become a warm lead for marketers. The site might offer a free e-book or resource document in exchange for an email address or phone number. Potential residents may also be able to register for seminars and tours through a website call-to-action that encourages them to “Sign up now!” The trick is for the potential resident to make that initial contact so that a salesperson can follow up and begin working him or her down the sales funnel toward a move-in.

Mixing up these calls-to-action, offering different incentives and using different copy will help you determine which ones work best and which are ineffective. No one gets it right every time when it comes to marketing. Testing, honing and refining are key steps in creating strong, lead-generating CTAs. At Varsity, we’ve had the privilege of working with many varied clients, in all market conditions. Our curiosity drives us to continually test and refine the CTAs we develop for our clients. This accumulated knowledge and testing then proves its real-world value with not only increased leads, but better quality leads that are more likely to commit to purchase.

What does increased marijuana use among aging adults mean for retirement communities and health care organizations?

February was Marijuana Awareness Month. With the national attitude toward the drug changing sharply in recent years, use of the substance among many cohorts is on the rise. At one time, its use by Boomers and seniors was only acknowledged in hushed whispers. Today, those same users are being more open about the medical benefits and their enjoyment of marijuana recreationally, furthering the cultural shift surrounding its legalization in many states.

This attitudinal change is becoming especially prevalent among aging adults who are usually thought of as being traditional and conservative. Recent studies show that, while drug and alcohol use and abuse are down among teens, they are rising among those 50 and older. A 2013 study showed that 7.1 percent of adults aged 50 to 64 had used marijuana in the past 12 months, with projections that the statistic will continue to rise.

What does this mean for organizations working with this population and providing for its health care needs? According to the journal, Health Affairs, it’s having a major impact on the prescription rate of painkillers, antidepressants and several other classes of drugs. The typical physician in a medical marijuana state prescribed 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers in a given year following legalization. Not only does that statistic impact those prescribed the drug, but it also has a greater community impact for those addicted to prescription painkillers and the drug trade that is dependent on their availability.

For retirement communities, the situation is a challenge. In many states, communities are avoiding dispensing the drug themselves, leaving it to the resident to obtain the substance and self-medicate. Those that are managing its use are relying on synthetic versions under physician guidance; however, one common trait that remains is communities being smoke-free, regardless of whether or not the substance is being consumed.

More than half of all Americans live in a place where marijuana is legal for recreational or medical purposes. Many Boomers and seniors came of age during the 1960s, when marijuana was demonized and classified as a “Schedule 1” substance by the government. But, at the same time, teens and young adults were experimenting with the substance, learning firsthand that it wasn’t nearly as scary as the authorities described. Perhaps the direct experience of youthful rebellion has helped steer the changing dialogue around the drug as those young “hippies” of the 1960s have become the leaders of today.

Wouldn’t you like to know on which day of the week residents exercise most? In what weather they exercise least? Where staff and residents interact most on campus? The answers to these and other questions were revealed in a LeadingAge Annual Meeting & Expo session on data’s link to wellness. Missed it? Watch the video to hear residents and leaders share how big data makes a big difference in well-being.

The video kicked off “Linking Data to Wellness, a Personalized Approach to Well-being,” presented by John Bassounas, Partner, Varsity; Kevin Purcell, Chief Data Scientist, Varsity; and Justin Margut, Wellness Manager, Bethany Village Retirement Community.

The session revealed three important things data analysis can tell you about wellness:

  1. The movement of behavior and trends among your residents at all levels of care
  2. How residents use the resources and facilities within a community
  3. Patterns of interaction between staff and residents along the continuum of care

For the rest of the session’s insights, contact us for an in-person presentation.

A group of fun-loving residents at a Florida retirement community. These 30 seniors show that they’re on top of the latest viral trends by participating in the Mannequin Challenge. Click here to watch the video.

Adventures like these prove that life in a retirement community is anything but dull. At Varsity, we salute all of the seniors who never let age stop them from growing, changing and challenging themselves, whether they’re freezing in motion or dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads, like these Ohio community residents did.

Researchers are testing a new treatment that could prevent Alzheimers’ many years before any memory loss occurs. How does the one-of-a-kind drug work? By destroying the build-up of amyloids, proteins produced in the brain that can form deposits that cause memory loss.

Scientists believe that the study offers new hope for Alzheimers’, because it is the first trial of a drug designed to prevent memory loss, not just treat it. The study is called Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s (A4 for short).

Want to protect yourself and the people you love from Alzheimer’s? Join the A4 study. Researchers are looking for healthy people between the ages of 65-85 to participate. To find out if you are eligible, visit the A4 website or call 1-844-A4STUDY. As the study’s slogan says, “Now is the time.”

As I’ve been pondering David Bowie’s passing, I couldn’t help but be struck by how well he orchestrated the sequence of events leading up to his death.

At 69, David Bowie was a member of the Boomer generation. Now, while he wasn’t your average, everyday Boomer, he lived through the same world events as Boomers everywhere. And, after all, haven’t we learned that there really is no such thing as an “average, everyday Boomer”?

While Bowie could be defined as a rock star, he certainly wasn’t a cliché. He didn’t die of a pathetic overdose. He didn’t take his own life in a fit of angst. He didn’t go out in a fiery crash. He went out doing what he wanted to do: create.

David Bowie didn’t share with the world that cancer was eating away at his body. That was his personal right. He chose to keep that private and, while it meant the world would be shocked by the news of his passing, it also meant he was free to create, right until the end. There weren’t tabloid shots of his fluctuating weight. There wasn’t speculation about how long he had, or grainy images of him in a hospital somewhere. He maintained his privacy and, therefore, his dignity.

As many have written, he had beautifully orchestrated his goodbye, with both his new Off-Broadway musical, “Lazarus,” and his new album, “Blackstar.” And to top it off? The entire run of “Lazarus” sold out in a matter of hours, and “Blackstar” garnered some of his best reviews — all without the benefit of a “celebrity death” to spark that interest.

He reflected many of the traits we’ve seen in the Boomer generation: a love for life, pursuit of interests, desire for control over his own life — ultimately making his own decisions.

David Bowie was art. David Bowie was passion. David Bowie was an individual — just like so many of his fellow Boomers.

Once again, Varsity participated in LeadingAge National, which was held last week in Boston. We wanted to share a few key themes we heard from keynote speakers and in conversation with conference participants (or attendees).

  • What residents miss in care settings: Friendships, privacy and purpose — three brand attributes organizations should be chasing
  • Boomers want to be the author of their  story as they age: An insight that can help communities design their offerings
  • When investing in technology, pay for outcomes, not the device: Seems logical, but we’re not sure this is fully embedded in provider strategy
  • Demographics are disruptive: More attention must be paid to the impact of demographics on aging service organizations
  • Live longer. Live better: Nice tagline, and it reinforces that aging is about quality of life, rather than quantity
  • Project Namestorm: “Life Plan Community,” an alternative to the name “CCRC,” was introduced
  • Transition of leadership: From the top (Larry Minnix) to individual communities, we need to nurture the next generation of leaders
  • The LGBT campground: A bold symbol of inclusiveness at the show
  • The role of faith in branding and appeal: It’s about mission and non-profit status rather than specific denominational affiliation 
  • The transitional generation is impacting communities NOW: We must appeal to the needs and desires of the Boomer while serving long-time residents from the silent generation 

One last insight to leave you with: According to our new study, “From the Outside In,” 0% of residents used the Yellow Pages to begin their search for a retirement community.

It can be a challenge coming up with exciting new activities in senior living, but one community used its swimming pool to offer something truly unique, aqua pole classes. Here are some other creative ideas for your pool activity calendar beyond water aerobics and lap swimming:

  • Relay races
  • Synchronized swimming
  • Water walking
  • Inner tube basketball
  • Kayak races

Water exercise benefits community residents in many ways, including improving mental health, strengthening bones and boosting metabolism—all without harming joints. And according to the CDC, people report enjoying water-based exercises more than exercising on land. Best of all, swimmers have about half the risk of death compared with inactive people.

What creative uses can you find for your community swimming pool?

As consultants, we spend much of our time asking questions—and listening to the answers. The insights we gain help inspire solutions that lead to success.

We want to enter into a conversation with you about the performance of your business.

In this day of instant information availability, it surprises us how little we really do share our successes, challenges and frustrations.

Our team has crafted a brief survey based upon multiple conversations with business leaders like you, from a variety of publicly traded, privately held and nonprofit entities. The questions that came out of those conversations will help us learn what works and what doesn’t in today’s challenging economic climate. We are asking you to share how you approach a number of key business activities—planning, leading, executing, etc.

Take the survey now

As in most surveys, we begin the process with a certain set of preconceived notions.  You will either confirm these notions or provide a different perspective on what people are doing to achieve business success. Regardless, we will share the results with you as you direct.

Please take a few moments to help us understand what successful organizations like yours are doing to exceed their target goals, regardless of the type of business or mission you represent.

Thank you immensely for your contribution to helping us define business success.

Think that only blondes have more fun? That thinking is old. These days, the trend is not covering grey with color, but covering color with grey.

The grey hair or “granny hair” trend has been around for awhile but is going stronger than ever. A string of celebrities, including Lady Gaga, Kylie Jenner, Kate Moss, Kelly Osborn, Rihanna, Nicole Richie, and even Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes, have all rocked granny hair.

The Huffington Post calls granny hair the hottest beauty trend of spring/summer 2015. And #granny hair is all over social media, with 27,102 posts on Instagram right now. The fashion world is showing love for granny hair as well, with models for Gucci, Versace and Dior strutting their silver locks on the catwalk.

It’s wonderful that society is recognizing that looks of any age can be beautiful. And even better that, after years of dropping serious cash at salons to hide the grey, women may be encouraged to embrace the beauty of their natural color. Then they’ll have more funds to spend on fun things, like that bucket-list trip to Hawaii.


Studies have shown that participating in creative activities can help keep our minds sharp as we age. But why stop at woodworking and pottery? Seniors in Lisbon, Portugal, have taken to the streets and are spray painting their graffiti tags across the walls of the city.

A recent study by the Mayo Clinic has found that seniors who engage in artistic activity may have a decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment. And the earlier these creative activities are started, the more they benefit the brain. In fact, the risk of mild cognitive impairment is lowered about 75 percent in people who regularly engage in artistic activities, both in midlife and later in life.

LATA 65, an organization in Lisbon is teaching seniors an unexpected form of art: graffiti. The program was created to introduce graffiti to an older generation of artists and to decorate run-down areas with colorful murals. Sounds a lot more exciting than basket weaving.

Managing a successful organization has never been easy, but given today’s rapidly evolving changes, the leadership challenge, at least for most of us, is greater than ever.  Pressures from a variety of stakeholder groups compete for our time, attention and resources. More than ever, distractions seem to intercept our good intentions. Results—favorable ones—don’t occur without a plan. Exceptional results happen only when the plan is well executed. Unfortunately, too many of us invest far more time in developing the plan than in managing or executing the plan.

More Than an Exercise

Strategic planning is a discipline that should be logical, practical and manageable. Many of the plans I review these days seemingly lack depth and evoke far too little action. Now that we have adopted the concept of strategic planning, let’s ensure we introduce plans to our teams that produce the desired results.  Planning should become integrated into our patterns of management at all layers of the organization, not simply an exercise for the board and a few select executives.

Missing Components

Two areas of planning I recommend consistently including in your strategic planning process are innovation and culture. Certainly these areas are difficult to articulate, but they are crucial to your success in driving the desired results. Whether you are competing for residents or employees, your ability to establish objectives for enhancing the culture in which your services are delivered creates a competitive advantage. In great work cultures, great ideas can come from any team member in any department. Setting the tone for culture is the foundation to creating a more innovative environment in which people want to contribute.

Monitoring Success

People want to know how their performance stacks up against expectations. Routine reporting on key accomplishments against the plan is often missing beyond the executive suite. Success happens when the entire organization is aware of the strategic plan as well as how they are doing in completing the objectives driven by that plan. Measuring and communicating success is more than simply crafting an email or printing a newsletter. Engaged teams want a personal account from leadership on how well they are achieving the goals for the organization.

Link to Performance

Is your organization performing at its absolute best? Why or why not? Is your strategic plan a living document embraced by your entire organization, or something that occupies space on your shelf only to be discussed at board meetings? Are you winning the “war for talent”—are the brightest people coming to work at your organization?

It is no longer enough to be good at anything—consumer expectations for your brand are high. If your organization is performing at a level that doesn’t create “wowed” customers, your plan needs work, and your executional tactics need attention. The journey of successful strategic planning and organizational performance must get your attention daily.

It’s a good week for “timeless female empowerment.” Blanche, Sophia, Dorothy, Rose, Baddie and Mylie are all in the spotlight.

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At Varsity, we’re major fans of the Golden Girls, and we’ve covered their innovative living situation in a previous blog post. That’s why we’re so excited about the news that a proposed Legos set featuring the groundbreaking ’80s sitcom is moving through the review process. The project, created by longtime “Golden Girls” fan Samuel Hatmaker, has now gathered 10,000 supporters, which means it qualifies for Lego review and has a chance to be produced. The story was all over social media and got picked up by USA Today, TVWeek, Ellen, Huffington Post and other news outlets.

Another ageless female also received a golden opportunity. On April 6, DimepieceLA, a chic street-style fashion brand, announced that 86-year-old grandmother Baddie Winkle will be featured in the new Dimepiece “state of mind” campaign. On the Dimepiece blog, the company announced, “Our brand has always stood for timeless female empowerment and continues to encourage this mindset in our latest campaign.”

Baddie has 745,000 Instagram followers, and one of her biggest admirers is Millennial megastar Miley Cyrus. Miley is such a huge Baddie fan that she photoshopped herself into one of the Dimepiece pool-site fashion shots and posted it on her Instagram page. Here’s to powerful females of all ages.


I remember visiting my grandparents as a child for two weeks each summer. As I grew older, I watched them transition from their working days to retirement. At that time, the shift towards retirement often meant a slower pace of life, a casual retreat from social circles and carefully budgeted spending. Even though I now value those lazy days sitting on the front porch learning from my grandparents, I didn’t realize that the journey they were on was transforming the experiences they would encounter for years to come. As consumers, my grandparents seemingly became virtually irrelevant to marketers of their day.

Oh, how things have changed. The Boomers are of utmost interest in today’s economy because, in most cases, they approach aging so differently than did their parents. They are active, independent, self-reliant and are positively anticipating the experiences ahead. The first generation to “work hard, play hard” isn’t going to slow down just because its cohorts can start collecting social security.

In my work, I have opportunity to interact almost daily with Boomers who are now at the same life stage that my grandparents were at when I was a young boy. As I listen to Boomers, I’m learning that they see their journey as anything but slow-paced, and they’ll spend a lot along the way, buying about 36 percent of new cars and accounting for 80 percent of all travel expenses. In fact, Boomers are planning to spend more money during retirement than did any generation before them. There’s no doubt about it—the Boomer experience will be different.

Given these dramatic shifts, what are you doing to position your products and services to meet the higher expectations of Boomers? Does your team understand the Boomer mindset? Is your buying process easy to maneuver? Do your organization’s physical assets capitalize on what Boomers value?

In my new role as vice president of planning and performance at Varsity, I help companies answer questions like these. By carefully evaluating your people, processes and property, we uncover opportunities to create a buying experience that resonates with today’s demanding Boomer audience.

If you would like a planning and performance assessment or have a particular challenge you would like to discuss, please email me at