Varsity Team, Author at Varsity Branding

Author: Varsity Team

The Varsity team attended the National LeadingAge Annual Meeting + EXPO, which was held October 16–19 in Denver, Colorado. In case you weren’t able to attend, here are some of the top themes we heard.

  1. Workforce recruitment. This remains a hot topic of conversation and a major struggle for much of the field. However, it seems as if the situation is slightly improving and there are some signs of hope.
  2. Raising rates. How much and when? People talked about how they had to raise rates twice in a year and deal with the issues that go along with that. Given that Social Security will increase by 8.7% in 2023, there is hope that residents will be (somewhat) understanding.
  3. Technology. Some people said they were excited by all the technology they were seeing. However, others said they just keep hearing a lot of buzzwords and no real substance. Technology is great; it can replace the tasks that don’t need human interaction (e.g., waiting for food and delivering it to residents), so team members can focus on relationship building. But high tech alone is not enough — we need high touch as well.
  4. Marketing content development. We saw fresh ideas from old and new vendors alike. Marketers are looking for new ways to redefine perceptions of Life Plan Communities in the marketplace.
  5. Cherish the moment. We’ve all been through a lot with COVID-19. We’ve all lost people in our personal and professional lives. It’s been hard, hectic and long hours of work, but let’s cherish the moment and cherish the people we do have.

What moments have you been cherishing during these challenging times? Please share your thoughts on the Varsity Facebook page.

October 22 is National Make a Difference Day! To honor this day of service, we asked our staffers,
“What is one thing you are doing to make a difference?”

Here are some of their answers:

“I’m building a sanctuary for nature and its creatures.”
“l live on a farm, where I compost just about everything possible, plant bee and butterfly favorites like milkweed, bee balm and butterfly bushes, and tend a flock of chickens that give me great nutrients for my gardens. I also maintain a small pond that attracts frogs, insects and butterflies, and build and install birdhouses around my property.”
Jace Dawson, Project Manager 

“I join 100 women in making a bigger difference together than we could alone.”
I belong to 100 Women Who Care, and each of us donates $100 per quarter and awards the aggregate $10,000 to a nonprofit in need. We nominate the nonprofits to be considered, they each present to us, and then we vote for who should receive the funding.”
Jackie Stone, Sales Consultant

“I serve as an election judge in my own precinct.”
After the murder of George Floyd, I wanted to do something that would make my community fairer and more equitable. I looked around for ways to do that and determined one of the best ways was to get involved in the election process. I wanted to be a poll watcher to ensure everybody was able to safely and confidently vote. However, I was told the greatest need was to be an election judge in my own precinct. I’ve served in that capacity since 2020.
— Derek Dunham, VP Client Services

“I support organizations that support the community.”
“I donate to local organizations and am mindful of the environment, because we all live downstream.”
— John Bassounas, Partner

“I’m going a year without purchasing new clothing.”
At the end of 2021 I did my routine closet clean-out, and by the end of the day I was donating more bags of clothing than I care to share the final number of. Seeing that much clothing was humbling and disturbing. I probably was only wearing about 20% of my clothes. I took on the challenge to see if I could go an entire year without purchasing any clothing, and I’m well on my way there.  Remake has been a great resource, and is packed with information about huge flaws in the fashion industry, from labor issues to the huge amount of clothing that ends up in landfills.”
— Renee Kelly, Art Director

“I volunteer my time to a nonprofit theatre company and a community college’s graphic design program.”
“For over 35 years, I’ve supported the local arts community by volunteering my time to a nonprofit theatre company — producing posters for The Harrisburg Shakespeare Company’s main stage events. I’ve also dedicated time to the local community college’s graphic design program, as a member of their advisory board, a guest lecturer and mentor to students, assisting them in preparing their portfolios and honing interview skills prior to graduation.”
— Robinson Smith, Creative Director

“I focus on reducing plastic use and recycling, buying locally and composting everything I can.”
“I compost everything (including buying compostable diapers), have planted bee- and butterfly-friendly flowers, use biodegradable cleaners, recycle all that I can, and use Terracycle for items that aren’t traditionally recyclable. I also buy local eggs, meat and produce at the farmers’ market one mile from my house that I walk to.”
— Natalie Groeger, Senior Account Strategist

That’s what we’re doing to make a difference! Here’s to helping each other, our communities and the planet!

September is Happy Cat Month and Responsible Dog Ownership Month! To honor these observances, we would like to introduce you to the feline friends and canine companions of our staffers. In addition to contributing to a happier, longer  life for older adults, pets have a similar impact on our team. Without further ado, we present the pets of Varsity!

Rocky the Pillow-Fort Creator
Owns: Ellie Weaver, Account Strategist

“This three-year-old boxer makes pillow forts for himself out of the couch cushions. He barks at everything that moves and sometimes at nothing at all.

Louis the Snow Bunny
Owns: Emily Runyon, Account Strategist

Two-year old Louie, a mutt, was adopted as a puppy. This big, happy lazy boy is happiest sitting on your lap (all 75 pounds of him) or in the snow.

Loki the Rodent Connoisseur
Owns: Jace Dawson, Project Manager

Adopted from Heavenly Paws, this 12-year-old feline hates to be inside too long and is the best hunter Jace has ever had. (Loki prefers rodents to birds.)

Mia the Tennis Ball Fanatic
Owns: Emily Runyon, Account Strategist

Adopted as a puppy, five-year-old Mia is obsessed with tennis balls and will do anything for a treat or to bask in the sun.

Sebastian the Cat’s Best Bud
Owns: Jace Dawson, Project Manager

An eight-year-old German Shepherd, Sebastian is loyal to a fault and loves to be vacuumed.

Mila the ZZZ-Catcher
Owns: Renee Kelly, Art Director

Adopted at a year old, ten-year-old Mila made her way to central PA from a shelter in Ohio. She lives her best life through relaxation, naps and walks.

Keno the Complainer
Owns: Jace Dawson, Project Manager

The first (and probably last) pure bred Jace has ever owned, 12-year-old Siberian Husky Keno is bullheaded and loves to complain.

Kylo the Cuddler
Owns: Jace Dawson, Project Manager

This affectionate feline loves to cuddle up on the sofa and in bed, but doesn’t like to be picked up. His snores shake the earth.

That’s our pet project. Here’s to our beloved animals – and yours!

The Varsity team attended the 2022 LeadingAge PA Annual Conference June 22–24 in Hershey, PA. In case you weren’t able to be there, here are some of the top issues we heard about at sessions and in conversations around the conference.

1.Workforce issues

As with all other industries, the aging services field is having challenges finding good people and also retaining current staffing. Several communities noted that they have experienced situations where people have been scheduled for interviews and simply didn’t show up. Communities are looking to do outreach with students and interns, as well as expand marketing and advertising initiatives aimed at employment.

2. Transforming spaces/amenities to keep up with community expansions

Overall space planning is important. While focusing on a new expansion and new spaces, it’s an opportunity to reimagine existing spaces for new uses and to present a fresh look across the campus. For example, one community mentioned that they are opening a new building, including a new auditorium and wellness center, and they are now building out the existing fitness center and auditorium as a new dining venue and pub, as well as other common use spaces.

3. Opportunities for growth through acquisitions, affiliations and mergers

All organizations are trying to stay profitable as they navigate the current landscape. Acquisitions, affiliations and mergers may present opportunities for communities to grow and be well positioned for the future, in the face of new for-profit rental communities.

4. Compliance and IT

The technology at a senior living community, just like at any organization, is vulnerable to malware attacks. We heard about the importance of protecting the system through cybersecurity. Everything from a smart light bulb to an adult child connecting to Wi-Fi can be a gap in the armor, and can create complications for IT from a security perspective. 

5. Midyear rate increases

Annual rate increases are standard for communities, but given the current environment of inflation and need for PPE (along with other, unexpected expenses), communities are considering — and some are implementing — midyear rate increases.

6. Innovations in technology

Demonstrated technology included robot-like Roombas that serve food, in-room Wi-Fi service providers that residents can log on to, and listings of the community’s activities that families can access through their TV screens. These innovations for the future can revitalize senior living, but there are challenges in implementing them for less tech-savvy residents and communities.

7. Digital marketing techniques for generating new leads

Lifestyle assessments, surveys and quizzes can effectively reach leads who are not yet ready to communicate directly with a sales counselor. Questions can be tailored to the navigation bar of the community’s site, the blog content they accompany, etc. — and, of course, can capture user information for future engagement. Examples of survey topics include: “Is it the right time for senior living?” “Is this dementia?” “Is it still safe for you to drive?”


“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Those are the words of John Wanamaker (1838–1922), a very successful United States merchant, religious leader and political figure, considered by some to be a pioneer in marketing.

Anyone who is a marketer for senior living communities can relate to that statement. But there is a way to know where your marketing dollars are really going, and it’s by harnessing your data using predictive analytics.

That concept was the focus of a 2021 LeadingAge Conference session, “Predictive Analytics: Connecting Past Performance to Future Success,” a joint presentation by Varsity, its sister agency WildFig Data and Ingleside Senior Living.

“Retirement communities in general are data rich and insight poor,” says John Bassounas, Partner at Varsity. “Sometimes when it comes to analytics and data, people get overwhelmed. Really, at the end of the day our job is to simplify that process and deliver insights that can help communities make better decisions.”

During these challenging times, harnessing your data is especially important. “As an outgrowth of COVID-19,” John says, “everyone is trying to figure out the role of digital — how organizations can establish a competitive advantage. Data is the way to do that.”

A Progressive Partner

Varsity and WildFig have been fortunate to partner with Ingleside, a forward-thinking, multi-site, nonprofit senior living organization located in the Washington, D.C., area. “Data analysis was a leadership initiative at Ingleside,” says John. “It started at the top, and leadership identified data analytics as a key priority for their organization. In doing so, they partnered with us, and we became an extension of their team.”

“This is a visionary client,” agrees Derek Dunham, Vice President Client Services at Varsity. “They have established team members focused on the digital experience in analytics — they see the value in it. They have been an early adopter of data mining and analytics.”

Here are some key takeaways from the LeadingAge presentation based on our work with Ingleside:

1.  Consider all of the digital elements as an ecosystem, not siloed tactics.

“One of the goals here is to make sure that we’re not just looking at isolated tactics. We need to assess the impact of the entire digital ecosystem of paid, owned and earned media,” says Derek.

“From a marketing perspective, understanding the relationship between the various tactics and strategies to the overall program is incredibly valuable, because we want to optimize the plan for the best results.”

“For Ingleside, an important part of the ecosystem is a fresh website that is newly programmed using all the modern tools. Technology is always changing. With a new website, we don’t have to dumb down any of the analytics because the site can plug into analytics and pull data easily.

2. Embrace the process — Each organization is at a different stage with their analytics and modernization journey.

“It’s important for any organization to have the mindset that this is a process,” says Derek. “It’s not going to be a one-off project; it’s a culture. It’s an ongoing initiative that needs to be fed over time. I would say, assess what you have and get going. Taking the first step is important as this process is never ‘done’ — there are always opportunities to refine, test and learn.”

“Some organizations might think, ‘We don’t have all the data we need.’ Others may think, ‘We have too much data.’ Don’t let a lack of data stand in the way of proceeding with initiatives,” John says. “The first thing you need to ask is, ‘What is the question that you want to answer, and how can data make that happen?’”

3. Start with the big questions — Others will emerge.

“Starting with the big questions means, don’t get mired down in the details,” Derek says. “First think about what are the big questions you want to have answered. A question might seem too big initially, but you’ll be able to break it down into smaller questions and put together a manageable process.”

As an example, here are some of the questions that Ingleside wanted to answer:

  • How do we reach and maintain 95% occupancy?
  • How can we use data to make informed decisions?
  • How can we predict future outcomes?
  • Should the website be redesigned and merged under one URL?

4. Think not just about outcomes, but about implementation, and how to create a dynamic feedback loop.

“It’s an iterative process, and you’re constantly going to be refining it,” says Derek. “You want to look at the outcomes at a point in time. With this process, you are able to have confidence that you can pull your data at any point in time and get answers.”

Once the loop is established, John says, “We can either look backward at what has happened, or we can look forward to help inform what we’d like to have happen or predict outcomes.”

5. Customize the sales experience through predictive modeling.

“The overall goal of data analytics is to be able to understand the data to provide prospects with a customized experience — making the entire process from a marketing and sales perspective more efficient,” Derek says.

“For organizations like Ingleside, we’re doing that through a predictive modeling tool that does two things — predicts what lead volume will be, and assigns a lead score to every prospect in their database. We’ll be able to map each prospect’s customer journey and know the likelihood of their becoming a depositor at each interaction with the salesperson,” says John. “This map can be generated for every prospect, providing an easily digestible way to monitor the sales process.”

Why is that so important? “We all know that it takes anywhere from 20 to 30 touches for somebody to move in,” says Derek. “The more we can make those touches relevant and purposeful and efficient, the better. Through that process, we also make the salesperson’s time efficient, because they’re dealing with the people who are most predisposed to buying. We’re offering the salesperson better information so they are better able to connect with the right prospects.”

If you’d like the Varsity team to take you through the presentation in more detail, please contact John Bassounas at or Derek Dunham at


As the long-awaited vaccine arrives in senior living, some communities are using access to it as a selling tool to attract potential residents. But should they proceed with caution?

This topic, which has come up in Varsity’s Sales & Marketing Roundtable, has also caught the attention of McKnight’s Senior Living. In this recent article, they reached out to Derek Dunham, Varsity’s VP of Client Services, for his take on the issue. Read the full story here.


In celebration of All-American Pet Photo Day, we’d like to introduce you to our office dogs, Mia and Parker. (They haven’t been in the office lately due to COVID-19, so they’re anxious to get back to work.)

Tell us a little bit about your pets.

Emily Runyon, account supervisor and Mia’s owner: According to a DNA test, Mia is 25% Boston Terrier, 25% Doberman Pinscher, 12.5% Australian Cattle Dog, 12.5% Rottweiler, and 25% mixed-breed groups. She’s three years old.

James Schorn, resource manager and Parker’s owner: Parker is part beagle, part German Shepherd and a little of something else. He’s eight years old.

How did your dogs come to join your family?

Emily: I begged and begged my husband to consider adding a puppy to our family. He finally caved after quite some time, and I quickly lined up an appointment to see a litter, up for adoption through Homeward Bound, before he could change his mind.

James: I was lucky enough to find Parker wandering through Harrisburg.

How do your pooches like coming to work?

Emily: Mia doesn’t love the hour-long car ride, but as soon as we get to work, she’s excited to greet her coworkers! Her first stop is usually to Renee’s desk for her morning treat.

James: Parker enjoys spending time around people, so he enjoys coming to the office, as opposed to watching the squirrels in the backyard.

What do Mia and Parker like most about the Varsity office?

Emily: Lots of treats, Derek sharing his daily apple, scratches, and the occasional walk around the block. Mia loves her coworkers and can often be found trying to coerce them into playing a game of tug-of-war in the afternoon. Strangers are not her friend; at first, she alerts the team of anyone in the building she doesn’t know—just ask the UPS delivery person!

James: Well… he hasn’t told me, specifically, but if I had to take a guess, I’d say he’s definitely a fan of the car rides to and from the office.

Where do your dogs hang out at work?

Emily: When she’s in the office, Mia can typically be found lying on her bed by my desk. She likes to nap throughout the day and chew on her bacon-shaped bone.

James: Some days, Parker will sleep on his work bed; some days, the wood floors work just fine. No science behind it, he does what he wants.


We’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the many thousands of team members who are working tirelessly at senior living communities during the COVID-19 crisis.

Thank you to the CNAs, who keep residents content and healthy.

Thank you to the culinary team members, who ensure that nutritional needs are met.

Thank you to the housekeeping team, which keeps the environment clean and tidy.

Thank you to the laundry team, which makes sure that everyone has clean clothes and bed linens.

Thank you to the groundskeeping staff, which see to it that the grounds outside each resident’s window are beautiful and provide comfort.

Thank you to the nursing staff, which care for residents’ individual health needs.

Thank you to the maintenance team, which keeps everything running smoothly.

Thank you to the drivers, who keep things moving.

Thank you to the receptionists, who are on the front lines as people enter or call the community.

Thank you to the security team, which make sure that everyone in the community is safe.

Thank you to the IT team, which keeps all the tech running in this increasingly digital world.

Thank you to the wellness staff, which focus on caring for residents’ minds, bodies and spirits.

Thank you to the activities team, which keeps residents engaged, day in and day out.

Thank you to all the other team members, who are working so hard to keep people safe at communities across the country.

You are greatly appreciated for all that you are doing to fight the coronavirus during this time.

We know that every community and business in the aging services space is trying to stay ahead of safety and communications for the COVID-19 virus while juggling the needs of residents and staying connected with prospects. This led us to think about some free and easy tips that can keep current and future residents engaged and upbeat as much as possible while their movement is restricted.

Here are some ideas we’ve collected that we wanted to share with you. We realize that there are many more out there, but we thought this would be a good place to start.

Keeping Residents Engaged

Educational opportunities/lifelong learning/cultural stimulation

Spiritual grounding



  • Use in-house channels to share “coffee chats” with residents.
  • Ask residents to send pics of what they enjoy doing in their homes to share with others in the community.
  • Encourage residents to FaceTime with each other and with their families. (Send an email to all family members encouraging them to FaceTime with their loved ones regularly.)
  • Caution against reading social media or listening to “hype” on TV or the radio, and encourage residents to reach out to the appropriate person if they’re at a low point.

Maintaining relationships with prospects

It’s important to always look for opportunities to follow up with prospects in meaningful ways, and the coronavirus pandemic is one of those (unfortunate) opportunities. Call your prospects to check on them during this health crisis, and ask if they are doing okay. Do they have food in the house? Is there anything they need? If they are local, drop off soup, muffins, toilet paper or other necessities on their doorstep. Recommend Netflix movies, documentaries, comedy shows or online live theater performances that might appeal to them. Give them ideas on how to stay safe, entertained, occupied and healthy. They will be grateful that you thought of them during this extremely stressful time.

In addition, we recommend virtual marketing events, where you can share details, floor plan walk-throughs, advice and just somebody new to talk with.

Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social detachment. During these troubling times, we all have to find new ways to stay connected.


When was the last time you experienced truly exceptional customer service? I pondered this question when I recently pursued the somewhat aggravating task of purchasing a new car. As much as I anxiously anticipated the thrill of “new car smell,” I recognized that the sales process might be far from enjoyable. Based on past experience, it was evident that choosing the right dealership(s) was key to elevating my overall customer satisfaction.

As I found myself returning to the group of car dealerships that had exceeded my expectations for the past 15 years, I reflected on what this organization does that exhibits the optimum service model. I came back to five points:

  1. Consistent processes, values and branding: The dealerships under the same umbrella, regardless of the actual “brand” of car I’m considering purchasing, maintain an ongoing relationship with me. They have established records of my buying history.
  2. Anticipation of the customer’s needs: The dealers keep me informed of promotions and cars I might want to purchase and/or lease even before I’m actually ready AND are prepared with background of my likes and dislikes when I actually arrive at the lot.
  3. White glove service: The dealers show care and attention to every detail of my needs, from purchase through all stages of the relationship. This includes: follow-up calls to see if everything is going well; calls from various team members to help me, even when they’re on vacation; referrals to the right people to help me with specific questions, such as a technology walk-through (not just being told to read the manual); the ability to come into any of the dealerships at any time with any concerns about the car after purchase (regardless of whether there is a service appointment); immediate service as soon as I walk in the door with no lag time; bumping up the time when my car is ready even though I didn’t ask.
  4. “Servanthood” in action: A true atmosphere of service is shown at every level, regardless of role, and there is accountability. Team members, through their words and actions, set aside self-serving behaviors in favor of serving others — they serve both their colleagues and peers, as well as the customer.
  5. Honest communication: The team members are transparent in their communications. Nothing is hidden, and it isn’t just for their own benefit, but for mine as well. When I recently bought my new car, I wasn’t “surprised” by anything before, during or after the deal, even when I turned in my previous car.

It occurred to me that these practices are not only lived by Varsity but are integral to the strategies we develop and employ for our clients as well. When consistently implemented, customers are pleased, the team feels good about its accomplishments, and the workplace thrives with a culture of helpfulness. The ultimate reward is that both the people and the organization are better for it in morale, revenue, image, brand and more…and don’t we all need a little dose of BETTER these days? I’m happy I was a recent recipient, with the added bonus of a shiny new car! 😊




A guest blog post by Brian Mailliard, CFO of St. Paul’s Senior Living Community

What does a community do with a prospective resident that is nursing home-eligible, does not need 24-hour care and yet can’t live independently? Up until now, the answer in western Pennsylvania has primarily been “personal care.” Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has many older adults who primarily live off of social security. These seniors do not have the assets to pay for personal care.

The problem is especially severe in rural western Pennsylvania. Here, the main industries of farming and manufacturing have taken a hard hit over the last 20 years. To make matters worse, affordable housing options for older adults are few and far between.

The good news is that, in the last five years, an alternative housing model has appeared. Share Care houses have been opening up in western Pennsylvania. This new housing bridges the gap for those with a low asset base who need assistance with activities of daily living.

A Neighborhood Solution

For-profit and nonprofit companies have been purchasing three-bedroom ranch homes in the community outside of their traditional campuses. The companies make small renovations, such as wheelchair ramps, wider doors and accessible bathrooms, to accommodate three residents. The residents utilize the Medicaid Home and Community-based Services waiver program,  plus their social security, to cover the cost of care. Once the home has three residents, the community can typically recoup the cost of the real estate purchase, plus renovations, in a 4–5-year time frame. At this point, the model becomes profitable. Since there are not more than three residents receiving services under the same roof, this model does not fall under personal care regulations.

The waiver will pay for an individual to get up to eight hours of assistance per day in a home in the community. Housing three residents, each optioned for eight hours of care per day, under one roof allows a company to have a care partner in the home 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Staffing is provided though a company’s home and community-based service providers, which now have the ability to offer staff the set schedules that are typically offered in home care. What I have found is that, in these small homes in the community, the staff and residents become their own little family. They grow close by doing activities together, such as shopping and cooking.

New Share Care Homes Opening

St. Paul’s Senior Living Community has opened two of these Share Care houses in the last six months. Wesbury United Methodist Community in Meadville, Pennsylvania, is also involved in Share Care. In addition to providing care at its campus, Wesbury owns and operates eight Share Care homes in the Meadville area. I have toured two of these homes. I’ve also met with Wesbury’s chief financial officer to discuss the community’s successes and struggles with Share Care.

Wesbury identified the need for a level of care for lower-income individuals that are not nursing home-appropriate. It first heard about the Share Care model from a local home care agency that operated a home. The Share Care homes are contributing to the entity’s bottom line and are operating at a profit. The impact on the outside community has also been very positive for Wesbury, with residents and staff getting involved in the greater communities in which the houses are located. That community involvement is something I plan to take back to promote at the Share Care homes within my organization.

Lessons Learned About Share Care 

Wesbury learned early on that, when making renovations, it is best to keep the house looking just like any other in the neighborhood. This way, neighbors do not get a sense that an outside organization is coming in and changing their neighborhood. One of the ways in which Wesbury combats this stigma is by putting the wheelchair access ramp inside the garage. That means the ramp is out of sight when people are driving through the neighborhood.

We have opened two of these homes in the last six months, and we are filling our second one with residents now. During this process, it has become obvious that, with any fewer than three residents, the costs outweigh the revenue. Because of this, filling the home has become a priority. When I asked Wesbury how it combats the cost of census turnover in its homes, I received a simple answer. Currently, they said, the only way to absorb the cost is by scale. The more houses you have to spread the costs of census turnover across, the better the model performs financially.

The Top Challenge Communities Face

What’s the number one struggle that Wesbury — and now St. Paul’s — has with this care model? It’s getting people approved for the waiver. Individuals who apply for the waiver wait, on average, six months for approval to be finalized. And, unlike the Medicaid benefit for the nursing home, there is no presumption of eligibility with the Home and Community-based Services Waiver. This means that someone in need of services cannot start receiving them until final approval is given.

As leaders in our communities, we have the ability to effect change. Organizations like ours and LeadingAge PA can advocate for change to the approval process for the waiver. Additionally, organizations such as mine that are just starting to offer Share Care can work with experienced organizations, like Wesbury, to learn how to navigate the current approval process. Share Care has proven that it can be an effective care model for low-income individuals who need help to live on their own. We just need to work together to make it easier to implement.

As the clock ticks down to 2020, we look back on another exciting year for the Varsity blog! Here’s a countdown of our five most popular posts for 2019. It’s a grab bag of hot-button topics, from groundbreaking wellness ideas to intergenerational brainstorms.

5. 18-year-old Jumps Into Life at Senior Community

In this interview with out-of-the-box thinker Rosemary Ramsey, she reveals her inspiration for The Victory Lap, a one-of-a-kind program that pairs youth aging out of foster care with senior communities. Read about an intergenerational program that could change senior living.

4. Overheard at LeadingAge TN: What if…

Our VP of Client Services Derek Dunham takes us inside the “what-if” moments of the 2019 LeadingAge TN Annual Meeting & EXPO. Explore “what-if” moments.

3. Disruption in Senior living — Opportunity or Threat?

From shrinking staff to the growing middle market, Derek Dunham disrupts our world with the highlights of the 2019 PAHSA conference. Get disrupted.   

2. 10 Leadership Secrets From LeadingAge PA

This series chronicles the year-long journey of LeadingAge PA’s Fellows in Leadership program. In this post, Brian Mailliard and Sakkara El share what they’ve learned at the halfway mark of their adventure. Learn the secrets of leading well.

1. When It Comes to Wellness, Nothing’s off the Table

Our most-read post of the year was a fascinating conversation between Becky Anhorn, the inspirational wellness director at Meadowood Senior Living, and Rob Smith, Varsity’s creative director. Read about a groundbreaking approach to wellness.

That’s our countdown of top posts for 2019! Stay tuned for more fresh content in 2020, and please contact us if you’d like to do a guest post or be interviewed for an upcoming blog.


‘Like it’ or not, we’ll never know, thanks to a new update being rolled out by Instagram that will prevent you from seeing how many likes the accounts you follow are receiving on their accounts. To see what this means for your brand, check out this infographic.

As we head into 2019, we look back on an exciting year for the Varsity blog! Here’s a countdown of our most popular posts for 2018. It’s a potpourri of topics, from serious to humorous to touching. One common thread: innovative ways of helping people age well, from a world-renowned village for people experiencing dementia to LEGOs.

  1. Older Adults Experiencing Homelessness Inspired by an experience our president Wayne Langley had passing an underpass in Los Angeles, this three-part series provides insights into how older individuals experiencing homelessness are treated. Read the first installment here.
  1. Difficulties in Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease  In this guest post, Rebecca Evans of geriatric discusses the second most common age-related disease after Alzheimer’s, including the lack of a precise screening test and why early diagnosis is so important. Read it here.
  1. Remembering Sal J. Molite, Jr.  Derek Dunham, vice president of client services at Varsity, pays his respects to Sal J. Molite, Jr., former president of Edenwald Communities in Towson, Maryland, who sadly passed away in January 2018. He was a true friend and colleague, who had a passion and dedication for the aging services. Read the post.
  1. American Hogeweyk — an Interview with UMC’s Larry Carlson Varsity spoke with Larry Carlson, President and CEO of United Methodist Communities, on his fascinating experience visiting Hogeweyk, the world-famous memory support community in The Netherlands. Read the post.
  1. Playing with LEGOs Could Help Older Adults Our most-read post of the year came from Robinson Smith, Varsity creative director and lover of all toys and games. Rob discusses Adult Fans of Legos (AFOLS), many of whom are older adults who use Legos to engage in a creative exercise for the mind. Read the post.

That’s our countdown of top posts for 2018! Stay tuned for more fresh perspectives in 2019, and please contact us  if there’s a topic or issue you’d like us to cover.


Larry Carlson of United Methodist Communities is known as a thought leader in the aging services space. He’s always pushed his team and his communities to be more resident-focused and to come up with creative ways to meet their needs. Recently, Larry spent some time in Europe. While there, he visited the world-famous Hogeweyk memory-support community in the Netherlands. Profiled by CNN, Hogeweyk has become a model for dementia care that many American providers have dreamed of reproducing in the States. Its community-based design, open and spacious amenities and focus on daily living have made it a model for the rest of the world.

We took a minute to sit down and chat with Larry about his experience and what he thinks the future of memory-support communities might look like.

Varsity – How did you first hear about Hogeweyk and become interested in the work being done there?

Larry – In 2013, CNN profiled the community in an excellent 20-minute segment. Since then, I’ve always wanted to visit and see the community firsthand. (For reference, here’s a link to that piece

Varsity – We know that Hogeweyk is centered on memory-support services. But, it seems it would be difficult to create such an environment for those with severe memory loss.

Larry – On the contrary! Residents don’t come to Hogeweyk because they are just mildly confused. Every person living in the community has a severe memory issue. Forty percent of the residents utilize some kind of mobility assistance. This isn’t a community created for those with onset dementia issues. It’s built to help those that are living with severe dementia.

Varsity – Wow! That’s not what would we would have expected at all. How can they care for such a population in a free and open environment like Hogeweyk?

Larry – Residents live in homes with six or seven other people. There are 23 such homes at Hogeweyk. Each resident has their own bedroom, sharing a kitchen and general living space with others. Team members are only in the homes between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day. As the residents move about the community, every team member is there to assess their needs and ensure safety. At night, residents are monitored with advanced technology. Rather than keeping a team member in every home overnight, they utilize microphones to listen for movement and issues, deploying staff as needed.

Varsity – It seems like Hogeweyk takes the idea of ‘person-centered care’ to a whole new level. Can you describe the environment and vibe within the community as you toured?

Larry – While ‘care’ is important, it’s not the most important phrase in the lexicon at Hogeweyk. The entire team is focused on a single mission: ‘normalize life.’ Every team member’s goal is to provide as normal a daily living experience as possible for every resident. If a resident wants to go grocery shopping, help with laundry, clean the house or just go for a walk, they are allowed to do that. No one chases after a resident who wanders away on their own. Within the community, residents are safe and allowed to explore as they like. At Hogeweyk, they care for their residents by ensuring their independence.

Varsity – This sounds like an amazing community but also one that would be a regulatory and risk management nightmare here in the States. How do they handle these issues?

Larry – Communities like Hogeweyk are mostly government funded and heavily regulated. That provides some layer of protection. The Dutch have a saying, ‘Don’t shoot the bear until you see the bear.’ This means that you don’t restrict an activity or area because it could be a problem in the future. For instance, there was a balcony with a regular height handrail. My inner administrator was immediately fearful that someone could fall over such a railing. When I posed this question to my Dutch counterpart, he noted that no one has ever fallen, so why would they change it now? It’s definitely a different mindset than what I’m used to.

Varsity – With this in mind, do you think there’s a way to bring a Hogeweyk-type community to the United States?

Larry – Absolutely! It’s become my goal to do so. We’ve reviewed the staffing requirements and realized that Hogeweyk’s staffing is within a single FTE of the staffing we would provide for a similarly sized community. Also, the monthly cost to reside at Hogeweyk is nearly identical to what UMC charges in many of our communities. Yes, there will be some regulatory hurdles, but the model is completely viable, and we want to make it happen at UMC.

Varsity – Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us and our readers! Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Larry – I really appreciate this opportunity as well! I’d encourage all of my colleagues and counterparts to learn more about Hogeweyk. Even if they can’t create a replica of the services offered, I’d implore them to think beyond person-centered care when it comes to memory support. Think about how you can normalize life for each resident. That simple change in thought process is the first step in the Hogeweyk model.

This article is a guest post by Rebecca Evans of As we approach Older American’s month, we thought it was an appropriate time to discuss one of the most challenging diseases that an aging adult might face – Parkinson’s. We thank Rebecca for her input and we hope you enjoy the piece!

I can hear you wondering: How is it hard to diagnose Parkinson’s Disease? After all, aren’t the characteristic symptoms rather distinctive?

Well…yes and no, unfortunately.

Yes, Parkinson’s disease symptoms are rather distinctive (for the most part, anyway; there are a few diseases and drug reactions that can mirror Parkinson’s symptoms)…but they take time to develop. In the early stages of the disease, in fact, it can be incredibly hard to diagnose.

After all, there are no precise tests for Parkinson’s. As often as not, it is mistaken in its early stages for another disease—which in turn delays appropriate treatment.

Most common diagnosis difficulties

For instance, there’s data that actually suggests that as many as 25% of Parkinson’s patients are misdiagnosed. That is, they may be receiving treatment for Parkinson’s, and not actually have Parkinson’s. Or they may be receiving treatment for something else, and actually have Parkinson’s disease.

A big part of this goes back to the fact that there is no precise test for Parkinson’s, and different diagnosing doctors treat different indicators differently. For instance, some of the most common tests given to potential Parkinson’s patients are CT scans, blood tests, urine samples, and more. None of these tests are definitive, however (remember, no precise test?), and so it is up to the doctors reviewing these tests to decide what to make of them.

For some doctors, inconclusive test results may cause them to lean toward a Parkinson’s diagnosis. For other doctors, those same inconclusive results may cause them to lean away.

So what are more accurate predictor tests?

In particular, because Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder, you probably want systematic neurological assessments to play a role in your diagnosis. For instance, neurologists familiar with Parkinson’s will know to test your reflexes, balance, muscular strength and responsiveness. Additionally, it is not uncommon for a neurologist looking at the possibility of Parkinson’s to say they aren’t yet sure. They want to run more tests, or want to run more tests in the future to see if your symptoms develop further. Parkinson’s is not an easy diagnosis to make. As such, neurologists familiar with the disease will likely not rush into such a diagnosis.

Similarly, there are a whole range of neurological disorders that can present many of the same symptoms as Parkinson’s. As a result, a neurologist may want to be careful to eliminate or rule out some of those other neurological disorders.

As a general rule, the more careful and thorough your neurologist is in testing you,  the more comfortable you can be in their diagnosis.

Please do note, however, that you can always get a second opinion from a neurologist you trust if you don’t feel comfortable with your original neurologist.

Why is appropriate and early diagnosis so important?

Quite simply, because it is the key to better treatment. When earlier caught, treatment can begin earlier, and adjustments can be made to help preserve independence and a high quality of life. This might mean developing an early exercise routine that works, finding the pharmaceutical regimen that gives best results, and determining what level of physical therapy works best for you and your current symptoms.

What diseases are most often confused with Parkinson’s disease?

In particular, if you suspect you or a loved one may have Parkinson’s disease, these are some of the other diseases that may regularly be confused with Parkinson’s. You will want your neurologist to rule them out in testing:

Benign essential tremor
Brain tumor
Huntington’s disease
Multiple sclerosis
Multiple system atrophy
Striato-Nigral degeneration
Supranuclear palsy

Other diseases may also be confused with Parkinson’s, obviously, but the above list is some of the most common.

So ask your neurologist to be thorough. It’s more important that you are appropriately diagnosed, so you can get the care you need, than that you are diagnosed quickly.

Multiple Sclerosis – An infographic by

We are proud to announce our participation in this year’s LeadingAge PEAK leadership summit, held March 18–21 in Washington, D.C.

The Varsity team has gone all-in this year, hosting a basecamp at zone 5 of the event. The theme of our basecamp is “Telling your story: connecting with tomorrow’s discerning customer.” All of our presentations will cover topics that relate to how aging services providers will need to grow and adapt their messaging in the coming years.

Keynote presentations will include:

  • “Positioning the Mission,” with Varsity President Wayne Langley
  • “Connecting with Consumers,” with Rob Smith, creative director, and Jackie Stone, vice president of sales consulting — both of Varsity
  • A panel discussion, hosted by Derek Dunham, Varsity’s vice president of client relations, where he will interview marketers to get their respective takes on how to get the most of an agency relationship
  • Kevin Purcell, of WildFig, who will demonstrate how data-driven decision-making can change the way you do business

In between these sessions, the Varsity team will be on hand to meet and discuss these topics and more with all of the attendees. We invite you to stop by and say hello!

Following PEAK, we plan to make a selection of our presentations available via videos on our website, so if you can’t attend in-person, be sure to check back to catch the highlights of the event.

Earlier this week, Mozilla and Google announced changes to their internet browsing products and user accounts. These changes are empowering users who don’t want to see remarketing advertisements, such as display banners that are used to target advertising to previous website visitors. These changes are coming as a direct response from users who have shown a desire to have more control over their web browsing experience. By giving users the ability to control their ads, these companies hope to maintain their market share.

Of course, any time major changes like this are announced, blogs and writers try to look at the story from all angles, including from those who claim the sky is falling and that remarketing advertising is going to die out. After taking a look at the facts of the changes, we at Varsity are confident that this remarketing remains a viable means of reaching the right market for our clients.

First, let’s look at the actual announcement from Google:

Reminder ads like these can be useful, but if you aren’t shopping for Snow Boot Co.’s boots anymore, then you don’t need a reminder about them. A new control within Ads Settings will enable you to mute Snow Boot Co.’s reminder ads.

This position makes total sense. If someone isn’t interested in or shopping for an advertiser’s products anymore, then he or she should be able to turn off the remarketing ads. As an advertiser, this actually makes us very happy, because it means that our ads are getting smarter. Rather than serving an ad to someone who may no longer be interested, there is now a way for the person to opt out of the ads, ensuring that our ad dollars aren’t being spent on someone who we have no chance of converting.

This change is about quality over quantity and how organizations measure success. Ad impressions are one way to measure success, but they concentrate on quantity. If your key performance indicator (KPI) is serving more ads, then yes, this change is going to hurt your KPI, as your ad will be served less.

But, at Varsity, we believe in quality-based measures of success. If 1,000 people see your ad but don’t act on it, was it worth it? Or would you rather have 10 people see your ad, and three people make a connection with you? Of course, you’d prefer to have three out of 10, rather than zero out of 1,000.

By giving users the ability to say no to your ads, Google and Mozilla are actually helping organizations spend their ad dollars more efficiently. So, don’t let the reports fool you — this is an important change, but not one that you should be worried about. Remarketing ads will continue to be an effective way to keep your brand top of mind with your target audience.



Many aging services providers use Facebook as a means to engage with their current and future residents, families and supporters of the community. The platform has become a powerful tool for communities and marketers alike. But, after several years of building a quality Facebook presence, providers are now being warned about upcoming changes to how Facebook works, which can and will affect their accounts.

In a January 11, 2018, post to the Facebook blog, Adam Mosseri, head of News Feed at Facebook, announced that changes to the News Feed are being implemented. Says Mosseri, ”With this update, we will also prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people. To do this, we will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in the Feed. These are posts that inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments…We will also prioritize posts from friends and family over public content…”

Obviously, these changes are going to be felt the most by organizations that operate a Facebook Page as part of their outreach efforts. Facebook expects that Pages will see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease. While people will still see posts from pages they follow, Facebook will prioritize content that prompts conversation and interaction between users.

So, what can you do to ensure that your posts will still be seen by your target audience? Here are our top tips for keeping your content in front of your followers:

  1. Make your content engaging. We can’t stress this enough. The days of just posting a pretty picture or trying to promote an upcoming marketing event are over. Your content needs to elicit a response from your audience. Before you make a post, ask yourself, “Does this post inspire me to leave a comment or share it?” If it doesn’t, then you should go back to the drawing board.
  2. But don’t beg for engagement. Facebook announced that it will algorithmically degrade content that asks for engagement. This means that you shouldn’t end your post with, “Please leave a comment” or “Make sure to Like and share.” Again, your goal is to inspire this behavior organically.
  3. Use a mix of words and media to garner a response. Every post you make should have a picture or video attached. Studies have repeatedly shown that text-only posts receive far less engagement. However, this doesn’t mean that you can ignore the words that go along with the post. The corresponding text needs to be descriptive enough that someone who has no knowledge of the topic being presented could be moved to engage.

Facebook has a history of making changes to its platform that are initially resisted by the user base but, over time, have proven effective, making for a better user experience. We believe this round of changes will be in the same vein, requiring us to adapt to a changing paradigm that will make us smarter and more effective marketers in the future.

Since the 1990s, divorce among adults 50+ has doubled, according to a Pew Research poll. People under the age of 50 have seen declining divorce rates, but later-in-life divorce (often termed “grey divorce”) continues to climb. Many researchers are studying why this is occurring, while families and senior living communities are on the frontlines, dealing with the real-life fallout from the ending of marriages.

Before we can understand how to handle grey divorces, we should probably understand the reasons why they are happening. An article on HuffPost, dated September 2015, actually laid out a pros and cons list for those who are “di-curious” and considering a divorce after 50. Reasons cited in favor of divorce included the ability to more easily meet new people (such as when moving into a retirement community), rediscovering of one’s sense of self, new sexual experiences and a freedom to engage in new hobbies that the previous spouse may not have been interested in. Of course, the cons list included issues like loneliness, feeling out of place among married friends and having to handle all of life’s challenges alone after many years of interdependent marriage.

With all of this in mind, we generally see a couple of trends for the reasons that people get divorced after 50. First, as attitudes toward divorce have changed in America, so have the attitudes of those growing older. The stigma of divorce used to be strong; today, it’s become more normalized. As such, older adults now feel less social pressure to remain in relationships that aren’t working for them. Of course, these divorces are enabled by “irreconcilable differences,” the modern catch-all phrase for when couples can’t seem to get along anymore. With children out of the nest, and the daily grind of work coming to an end, many couples find that spending so much time together in retirement is much harder than they had anticipated. They realize just how far they’ve grown apart and start to consider life beyond the marriage. Of course, these kinds of conversations can and do happen after a couple moves into a retirement community, creating a very murky situation, indeed.

Another sad trend that directly affects grey divorce and senior living is financial issues. There are more than a few instances where being divorced leads to a better financial situation for those involved. When nursing expenses become income-based, and one spouse was the breadwinner for years, the couple can be left holding a bill they weren’t prepared to pay. If divorced, those costs could be significantly reduced. What a terrible option this must be — pay to keep your marriage alive or divorce and keep yourself out of the poorhouse!

So, with all of this in mind, what can aging services providers do to help?

First, recognize that just because a couple has been married for 25, 30 or even 40+ years, there may still be issues in that relationship that you can’t control or understand. Everyone loves to say, “Awwww!” when they see an older couple holding hands, but for every couple like that, there is another that struggles to stay together every day. Having your pastoral care staff and social workers prepared to deal with marital issues in retirement is a great first step in providing resources for your residents.

We also advise that directors, admissions and marketing associates have a standardized plan in place for when a couple decides they are going to divorce after moving into the community. How will you handle the finances? Who moves out? What happens to the apartment or cottage? Taking a little time to think about these issues before they arise not only helps your organization better manage the situation, but it makes the transition easier and more respectful for the residents in question.

While the grey divorce trend can be unsettling for community managers, adult children and other residents of a community, it is an issue that is on the rise. We would like to think that every relationship will be able to grow and mature into retirement, but we know that not all will. It behooves aging services professionals to understand and plan for these changes now, before they are presented with them.


3 Reasons Why Seniors are Getting Divorced

Led by Baby Boomers, divorce rates climb for America’s 50+ population

I once worked at a large retirement community. The residents came from all walks of life and had very diverse views of the world. One day, I was talking with a couple just prior to election season. With politics consuming the media, it made sense that the topic became part of the conversation. I knew this couple had fairly liberal views, while many others in the community tended to be conservative. I asked them how they adapted socially during the election.

“Well, we just avoid people that we know will want to talk politics and disagree with us. Many of our neighbors sit and watch Fox News all day. We aren’t going to change their opinions, and they won’t change ours. So, why go through the exercise? It’s just easier to avoid it. Like during meals, we know which tables not to sit at or near,” said the woman.

During my time at that community, it wasn’t uncommon for political officials to make campaign stops on the campus. With more than 1,000 residents and staff, it was an excellent location for getting your name out there. Plus, we all know that older Americans are more likely to vote and generally spend more time learning about issues that affect them (such as health care). Knowing all this, what politician wouldn’t want to swing by a retirement community full of potentially influential voters? The administration also enjoyed having candidates and office holders visit the community because it buoyed the community’s reputation and provided an opportunity for free lobbying about issues involving aging services. Naturally, these visits focused the political spotlight — if even just for a short time — and got residents and employees talking.

As aging services organizations like LeadingAge devote ever-increasing budgets to lobbying, the role of politics continues to balloon. This puts residents and providers into sometimes unenviable positions. For example, an administrator may want to have lunch with a local representative to talk about issues relating to her community. Meanwhile, the residents hear about this and ask why she’s supporting a candidate that doesn’t match their views. Perhaps the residents even ask the administrator what her political leanings are, which could only exacerbate the issue, leading to a harmful situation.

While it’s not a topic that many think about, senior bullying is a very real problem, and politics are one way it comes out. Think back to the woman at the start of this story. She said that she avoids people who want to talk politics. She is being forced to change her behavior to avoid uncomfortable situations induced by others. Is this bullying? Probably not, but it’s easy to see how residents could become so vocal in their views that it intimidates others and rises to the level of bullying.

So, with all this being said, what can providers and marketers do to help these situations? Start by settig the tone from the top — and we mean the very top! The board of directors and administration need to be on the same page, regardless of what that page might be. Most human resources departments have policies in place regarding political activities while at work, but it can never hurt to go back and ensure that it covers all the bases. For instance, does it include guidance on how to deal with political activities from residents? All of this should be done with one goal in mind — and that’s creating a culture of civility between everyone on your campus.

Politics are part of life in America. We can’t ignore them, and we shouldn’t expect our residents and employees to, either. However, we can and should discuss proper boundaries around the topic and be proactive in creating civil spaces on our campuses. Politics, by nature, will always be divisive, but that doesn’t mean they have to divide our communities.

As communications professionals in the world of marketing, the way we frame language around our products is very important. In the digital realm, it becomes vital — especially in a world of search engine marketing and optimization that’s driven by customer vocabulary. Through this, users influence how organizations market themselves; meanwhile, providers try to influence a user’s search language by changing industry-accepted terms.

A great example of this is the term “Continuing Care Retirement Community.” It was adopted by the aging services field, but over time, it failed to truly describe what consumers want. Recently, the industry leaders (including our team at Varsity) pulled together to recommend the term “Life Plan Community” be adopted as a more aspirational term for the Boomers. Let’s pull back a bit further and think critically about how we continue to use language as senior living marketers.

If you perform a Google search for retirement communities or senior living options, you’ll generally run into two euphemisms used by marketers — “luxury” and “affordable.” I ask myself, if I were in the market for aging services, what do these terms say to me?

Luxury — “Luxury means the finest amenities and high-end dining” or, perhaps, “Do I have enough money to afford this property?”


Affordable — “Oh, great. A community that won’t break the bank and that I could actually afford” or, perhaps, “I guess I’ll settle for whatever an affordable community has because I can’t afford luxury.”

There are upsides and downsides to how we interpret these shorthand phrases. Certainly, marketers like them because they force consumers to self-segment. Those without assets will naturally avoid luxury, and those with money wouldn’t be interested in the more limited offerings found in the affordable space. Certainly, as we manage search engine marketing campaigns, providers often identify “affordable” as a negative keyword, meaning that if a user enters that phrase in his or her search, an ad will not be shown because the organization assumes that the user can’t afford its offerings.

Maybe you’re like us, and you’ve noticed something missing. Yes, just like the rest of America, we’re forgetting the middle class. Middle class used to be something everyone aspired to. It was a positive to be middle class, and people were proud of that label. Today, it seems that if you aren’t part of the upper, then you’re just part of the lower. When did that change? When did aging services stop engaging with the middle class?

For instance, let’s look at these search terms from Google Trends. This data is only for the United States, over the last 12 months, and shows the popularity of each phrase when it comes to searches:

The blue bar is “affordable senior living.”

The red bar is “luxury senior living.”

The yellow bar at the bottom is “middle class senior living.”

As you can see, no one searches for “middle class senior living.” There are plenty of reasons why this may be, but certainly it’s not a term used by providers to market their products. No one wants to be labeled “middle class,” it seems. What, then, is the term used by average Americans to find a middle-of-the-road community? In this case, there isn’t a universal answer — and, in my mind, that’s an opportunity.

While many communities are focusing on luxury and are trying to bring in asset-laden residents, there’s a strong middle class, driven by Baby Boomers, that are going to be looking for a retirement option. If providers can find a way to cater to this segment, they could potentially have much to gain. Marketers need to begin working now to define what middle class retirement accommodations look like and educate potential residents on how to find them.

Language is an amazingly powerful tool. As marketing professionals, we have a way of impacting how people perceive and interact with the products we make. No one would describe an Apple product as an affordable brand, but many do think of it as a luxury. Yet, for many Americans, it’s a luxury they can afford and represents a certain amount of prestige and status.

As we look to the future of marketing in the senior space, how do we capitalize on this and tell middle class Americans that a quality retirement experience is a luxury they, too, can afford?

That’s something that we, at Varsity, are thinking quite a lot about.

One thing nearly every retirement community can agree on is that they feel like they go unnoticed. Marketing managers around the country are all too familiar with the phrase, “We’ve lived in this area our entire lives and never knew you were here or what you did.” Of course, this refrain drives retirement living professionals batty, as they are often working very hard — and spending lots of money — in an effort to get someone to consider making their property home. To this end, one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle is a robust public relations plan that both informs the wider neighborhood of their existence and acts as a marketing tool that helps to bring in prospective residents.

Getting local media outlets to cover a retirement community isn’t always easy. While we, as professionals working in the industry, see and hear all of the amazing stories our residents share, it is often difficult to get reporters and journalists to pay attention. And why should they? While Mr. Jones may have an amazing story about his involvement in the Korean conflict, there is probably a Mr. Jones at every community. Finding an angle for a story that piques the interest of the media can be difficult, but we have some tips on where you can find those stories.

First, think quirky! Some of the best story hooks in your community may be hidden just under the surface and are things that you don’t even notice anymore. That resident whose apartment is entirely decorated with elephants may be old news to you, but his or her quirky collection may just be the interesting hook that a reporter will bite at. Nearly everyone has something quirky that makes him or her unique, so don’t be afraid to share it.

Next, try to tie someone’s life story into what’s currently trending. Perhaps a neighborhood in your community is undergoing a revitalization, and it’s the same area in which many of your residents grew up. Hearing how the neighborhood has changed, grown or even remained somewhat the same over the course of several decades can be a fun story to share! Every resident has a unique outlook based on his or her life experience, so sharing how those memories reflect on today’s society can be a great starting point for an article or interview.

Finally, embrace popular culture. What’s the latest fad that kids are into? Finding a way to connect your population to that fad or a public relations piece can be great fun! One great idea we had was to ask residents to interact with a fidget spinner, the toy craze that hit earlier this summer. While many parents and teachers saw the gizmos as silly, we found that some retirees loved to play with the toy — and we captured their reactions as they did!

Great public relations stories for your community are occurring every day. Finding a way to make the unique and different is what will appeal to reporters. If you remember to look for the quirky, keep an eye on trends and embrace popular culture, you’ll uncover a slew of stories in no time flat!

It kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined. It takes the lives of one in three seniors. And only 45% of people who are diagnosed, are told they have it. It’s Alzheimer’s, the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

More than 28 million boomers will get Alzheimer’s by 2050, and spending on this disease will eat up 25% of Medicare funds. It’s the only disease in the top ten we can’t prevent, cure or slow. But we can take action. And today is World Alzheimer’s Day, the perfect time to start. To learn more, watch the video.

Which celebrity recently helped prepare meals and deliver them to seniors? A good egg who’s very tired of bacon jokes. His name is Kevin Bacon, and recently he did his part to fight hunger by volunteering at a NYC Meals on Wheels.

Since we work in an industry that serves seniors, it’s important to be aware that 6.4 million of them suffer from hunger. What better time to call attention to this life-threatening issue than World Hunger Month, going on now.

You can be six degrees away from Kevin Bacon and help your favorite hunger charity win $5,000 by taking the good egg challenge and spoofing his funny Web film and shorts. Watch them here.

If you put a preschool inside a retirement community, what would happen?

Something very unexpected: Both the children and the seniors underwent an amazing transformation.

At Providence Mount St. Vincent, a senior living community in the Seattle area, a preschool is actually housed inside the community’s campus. On a daily basis, the children sing, dance, draw and visit with residents. The interactions bring laughter, companionship, learning and understanding to all of their lives. Watch this short video to learn more.

Around 500 communities in the U.S. offer similar programs, and filmmaker Evan Briggs would like to see this model implemented on a larger scale.

Briggs is making a documentary about the preschool to raise publicity about the benefits of intergenerational interactions. This video is a trailer she made to raise funds on Kickstarter to finish her documentary. If you’d like to support her efforts, you can do so here.

Undoubtedly you’ve heard about Google’s “Mobilegeddon” – we’ve been working with our clients to stay ahead of this curve. Well, we wanted to break it down and help you be mobile-savvy.So, what is “Mobilegeddon” all about? Google has changed its algorithm related to mobile search and smartphones — desktop and tablets will be unaffected by the new algorithm, for now. 

Moving forward, when searches are conducted on mobile devices, Google will flag the mobile-friendly sites and give them higher priority in the organic search listings. Higher organic search rankings equates to a much higher likelihood of click-throughs (awareness) and leads (purchase intent) and vice versa for non-mobile-friendly sites. Considering how the top #1 and #2 organic search spots attract an average of 20-30 percent of the first search results page’s clicks, this only amplifies the importance for your company to ensure your site is mobile optimized.

​Depending on your industry, smartphone users can make up a significant portion of search volume. In fact, mobile constitutes roughly half of all Google searches. Furthermore, on the consumer side, over half of Boomers now own smartphones, while overall penetration in the U.S. has grown to 77 percent. The tides of device preference and usage are certainly changing, and your brand will ultimately benefit by rolling along with the tides.

A nice bright spot in this is that, with all things digital, this can be addressed in real time. When you’re ready to roll out your mobile-friendly site, Google will begin to recognize the change and incorporate it in higher into the search results. Also, the tweaks to the algorithm began on April 21 and will be rolled out over the next few weeks. So a dramatic change might not appear right away. But, at the same time, this doesn’t mean you should wait to react. Proactive planning is a must in today’s ever-changing online world.Time will tell regarding the true impact of this shift on search results for each website, but this would be the ideal time to refresh your website as it relates to mobile responsiveness. But with Google accounting for nearly three-fourths of the total search engine market, this algorithm change is not something to be ignored.

How can you tell if your website passes the mobile-friendliness test? Just click here and enter your website address. In a matter of seconds you’ll know if you get the message “Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly!” or “Not mobile-friendly“.Don’t wait to see what impact this has on your site. We’ve already analyzed this and discussed the rise of mobile device website visits with a number of clients, now whom are highly interested in moving forward with this strategic investment. Give us a call to discuss how Varsity could help you ensure that this Google algorithm change isn’t going to hurt your business and give your competitors an unfair advantage — our interactive team is ready and has the chops to help you be even stronger in the all important search and mobile worlds.

“Once upon a time…” The phrase takes many of us back to our childhoods. It brings back memories of snuggling under the covers as a parent told us a bedtime story, or sitting cross-legged on the classroom floor as the teacher read out loud. We listened raptly, wondering where the story would take us next. Even as adults, we love stories and the journeys they take us on. It’s stories that grab our attention and keep it.

Consumers love stories, too. They enjoy learning about the history of a company and where it is going next. In college, I learned about the marketing concept “what’s in it for me?” and how important it was to answer that question through storytelling. That was close to 25 years ago, and the idea remains as strong now as it was then.

Our culture has been handed down for centuries through the oral tradition of storytelling. It’s in our nature to tell stories. People love to relate an anecdote when friends ask them about a purchase they’ve made. So, if you share a story about your own product with your customers, you’ll reap the benefits of having it passed on to others. This process is how a good story can grow and develop a life of its own.

Creating a story about your brand is a great way to let your customers know who you are and what you stand for. It’s through this narrative that you gain their interest and, more importantly, their trust. It doesn’t need to be some huge tome, telling them every little thing about your brand. It just needs to be enough to give them a taste, make them want more and, most importantly, help them remember you and your product.

In addition to my career in advertising and marketing, I’ve spent the last 15 years making and selling my own artwork. My customers love to hear the story behind each of my pieces. Even if they don’t buy anything, I tell them the story about my studio name. I can’t tell you how many people come back and say, “I remember you and that interesting story of how your studio got to be called ‘Kerensamere.’”

In this digital age, one might think that storytelling is dead, but that is simply not the case. If anything, storytelling is prevalent in our society now more than ever. Online videos are a great example of storytelling. It’s amazing how one well-crafted video can tell so much in such a brief time. Make it a good one, and it goes viral. Next thing you know, everyone is telling your story for you.

Not everyone is a good storyteller. Back in the Middle Ages, communities relied on bards to come to town and recite stories. Not just anyone could be a bard; it took a certain skill. It’s kind of like the difference between a person who’s good at telling jokes, and one who isn’t. If it’s not told right, the joke falls flat. You don’t want this to happen with your own brand story. That’s where hiring the right team can make all the difference in how well your story is told and retold.

Crafting and presenting your story is a skill that comes with practice and insight. You need to understand your own brand as well as your audience. What is it that you want people to know? How do you get them to care about your story? This is where hiring a team like Varsity comes into play. We pride ourselves in our ability to create brand narratives that tell your story to the people you want to hear it and get them to repeat it for you.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

covenant village of florida retirement community Grown Up Advertising is authored by our creative director and industry veteran Stephen Gordet, and covers the do’s and don’ts of talking to the mature market.

One of the most difficult aspects of retirement community marketing is that no one wants your product. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I can’t wait until I’m old enough and infirm enough to move into a retirement community!”? Probably not.

Most seniors begin to consider a senior living community after a medical event such as a fall or serious illness, or a life-changing situation like the death of a spouse or a sudden inability to maintain a home.

Every sale involves an attitude change. Prospects need to be convinced that the move to a retirement community will allow them to not just be safe, but to experience a fulfilling and rewarding life. We need prospects to come out to the community on multiple occasions, experience the social opportunities, enjoy the meals, and envision for themselves the possibilities of a fulfilling life there.

This can only happen over time, which is why our on-staff sales consultant, Maura Richards, tells us that it takes an average of 20 “intimate touches” to actually close a sale. So when we develop advertising, we incorporate not only branding, but also event marketing to get prospects out to the community as frequently as possible, along with special offers to create a sense of urgency.

Please take a look at the ad above that we created for Covenant Village of Florida. Our strategy is reflected in the branding. Based on our research, we knew that strongly faith-oriented individuals would be most attracted to this community. We wanted to target them, but not to the exclusion of others. The “covenant” language and concept that we developed did just that.

Then we added tactics: We promoted frequent on-site events that were of particular interest to seniors, getting them out to this beautiful community. Finally, we developed urgency through strong calls to action emphasizing the limited number of apartments and special move-in offers.

We implemented our plan through print, direct mail, paid search, specialized Web landing pages, and strong public relations and earned media components.

The result: We met and exceeded occupancy goals. Our success proves that, as in football, a correctly focused strategy and perfectly executed tactics give you a winning game. Contact us if you’re interested in receiving a full case study for more detail.

MARKETING INSIGHT: A perfectly crafted strategy isn’t enough. Carefully consider what is tactically necessary to close the sale.

It looks like Boomers and a growing number of seniors are becoming fully entrenched in online media. Although they still trail their younger cohorts, this year alone, 71% of those aged 50-64 and 59% over 65 have used at least one social networking site (Facebook still rules) compared with 26% in 2010 and 1% in 2008. They also love online video sites (Winner: YouTube), and 77% are using their mobile device simultaneously with “second screens.”

But as we discovered through our most recent research, those stats are only part of the story. Check out the infographic below to see what media types they’re using, and how much time they’re actually spending there.

Infographic: A Media-Hungry Mature Market Shifts Their Appetite

MARKETING INSIGHT: We’re seeing a ton of content around the mature market and their relationship with the shifting technology and media landscape – from the downright informative to the just plain condescending. But as more Americans shift their media consumption habits, brands must also retool their content marketing strategies to satisfy prospects’ needs. On the technology side, device manufacturers need to keep access and usage top-of-mind, while on the marketing side, content producers should be cognizant of practicality and relevance.

*Source: Google & Ipsos MediaCT, “Reaching Today’s Boomers and Seniors Online,” May 1, 2013


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 “Next Generations” Still Think Communities are Unprepared for the Aging Tidal WaveWe’re not referring to retirement communities, but rather the actual towns, cities and suburbs that are facing an aging tidal wave, and are still woefully unprepared to meet the needs of the growing senior population. A large number of older adults and around half of adults under the age of 60 still believe the areas where they currently reside have few to no preparations in place for the future, according to a new survey released by the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

The new survey, produced by NCOA, UnitedHealthcare and USA Today, showed that seniors have maintained a positive outlook in terms of their future and the aging process in general. When it comes to their health, most express little concern about their current health status, and not surprisingly, many report not investing in activities that are important to help manage their health for the long-term.

On the financial front, most seniors surveyed expressed a comfort level with their current financial situation, but are somewhat concerned about the financial impact of living longer. More than half of respondents (53%) said they are concerned about whether their savings and income will last the rest of their lives, while 33% were not concerned.

Both retirees and those retiring in the near future intend to rely on Social Security as their main source of income, shown in the survey as 43% and 41% respectively. Nearly 19% reported difficulty in affording living expenses, based on their current income and savings.

Community support was another issue altogether. Most seniors (71%) agree their community is “responsive to the needs of seniors.” But only around 30% of people aged 60 and older don’t believe the community is prepared to meet the future needs of an aging population, and a full 45% of those 18-49 don’t believe communities will be prepared to meet those needs at all.

Friends and family remain constants: seniors also say that staying connected with family and friends is important to maintaining a high quality of life.

You can read the executive summary report from The United States of Aging Survey here.

MARKETING INSIGHT: As far back as 2005, aging population studies were showing that while many communities have some programs to address the needs of an aging population, very few have a comprehensive assessment of what it would take to make their community “elder friendly.”

That’s also reflected in the retirement living industry, where there’s currently a major gap between family expectations and changing resident needs, and an industry completely unprepared for the “next generations.”

There needs to be a better way to educate the public on planning for the future, about their living accommodations and unexpected illnesses that are sure to increase as the population ages. Likewise, smart communities and the retirement living industry will need to find ways to inform their current residents – of all ages – on what products and services are available to help them, and how to access them. Click here for a “community checklist,” courtesy of


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Close Grandparent and Adult Grandchild Bond is Good for Mental Health If you’re a grandparent, you can still play a role in you adult grandchildren’s lives, and as a new study shows, they can help improve your life as well. Researchers have concluded that a strong relationship between grandparents and their adult grandchildren has real, measurable effect on one another’s psychological well-being.

Top-level findings indicated that a close emotional relationship between the generations was associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both. Also, giving tangible support to, or receiving it from grandchildren affected the psychological well-being of grandparents but not their grandchildren. That support, also called “functional solidarity” or “instrumental support,” includes good deeds: rides to the doctor, monetary assistance, help around the house, or simple advice.

The study also supports conventional folk wisdom that if a grandparent gets help but can’t give it, he or she feels badly.

“Grandparents expect to be able to help their grandchildren, even when they are grown, and it’s frustrating and depressing for them to instead be dependent on their grandchildren,” said study co-author Sara M. Moorman, Ph.D.

Methodology included data from the Longitudinal Study of Generations, a survey of 3- and 4-generartion U.S. families that had been collected between 1985 and 2004. Subjects included 376 grandparents with an average age of 77, and 340 grandchildren with an average age of 31.

Moorman also believes the research suggests that extended family members serve important functions in each other’s daily lives throughout adulthood, and that efforts to strengthen families shouldn’t simply focus on families with young children. It also indicates that helping older people remain functionally independent may aid their physical and psychological well-being.

“All people benefit from feeling needed, worthwhile, and independent,” she said. “In other words, leg Granddad write you a check on your birthday, even if he’s on Social Security and you’ve had a job for years.”

Source: American Sociological Association

MARKETING INSIGHT: It’s an interesting study, and it supports the important role of grandchildren as being influencers in their grandparents’ lives – from technology to care options. In many cases, this could be due to the rise in multigenerational households, or simply the grandparents’ desire to stay connected and ahead of the proverbial curve. For grandchildren, it’s a primer to stay in contact, whether the grandparent lives in a CCRC or on their own – in person or via Skype. In any case, marketers need to keep the grandkids in the loop when trying to reach the older contingent.


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New Research Could Possibly Detect Early Dementia You’ve probably heard someone refer to forgetting a name, date or person’s face as having a “senior moment.” But does testing whether someone recognizes Elvis or George Bush help diagnose rare forms of dementia?

A recent study asked people to name and recognize images of famous faces of the 20th Century, including Albert Einstein, Oprah Winfrey, Pope John Paul II and Barbra Streisand, to name a few. All the famous people selected were considered “cultural icons” and easily recognizable.

The test was given to 27 healthy adults and 30 people with a rare neurological condition called primary progressive aphasia (PPA), which causes problems with communication, especially spoken language, but does not affect other brain functions. PPA is one of the rarest types of dementia, and often attacks between age 40 and 65 – hitting the Boomer population.

The study was completed by researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago using their proprietary NUFFACE Test, and funded by the National Institute on Aging and National Center for Research Resources, among others. Results were published in the August 13 issue of Neurology. Although similar tests exist, researchers note that most are outdated and not appropriate to use with younger people affected by rare and specific forms of dementia.

Not surprisingly, those with PPA had significantly more difficulty naming and recognizing the famous faces. Researchers then tested whether the findings from the test were associated with changes to the brain structure using MRI. Again, those with PPA showed more atrophy in areas of the brain involved with both visual perception and language.

For a more in-depth look at the study, click here.

MARKETING INSIGHT: Despite the positive findings, this was a small study that only looked at the performance of people already diagnosed with one rare type of early dementia. It’s not clear whether this test would be accurate in diagnosing more common forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.

It seems as though more forms of early-onset memory issues have become prevalent in the Boomer demographic, pushing what had been previously viewed as “senility” up a few generations. As we saw in Project Looking Glass II and The Great Disconnect, memory support is top-of-mind for the “next generations,” and senior service providers must be ready – be that through preventative programs, wellness initiatives or even physical exams. We encourage more research, education and awareness on memory issues, and again, for nationally standardized methods of diagnosing and treating them.


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memory care workers Labor Day is a yearly national tribute to the contributions American workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. On this Labor Day, we’d like to thank those who are making a difference in the senior care industry, namely in the area of memory care.

We write about memory care a lot, and rightfully so. This issue is projected to become an even bigger tsunami than the actual aging of America, and will affect every aspect of the senior services industry, from CCRC occupancy to home- and community-based services. It’s expected that up to 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050, and that there will be only four caregivers available for every person 80 years old and above by 2030.

We know that cognitive and memory impairments can change how a person thinks, acts and feels – and those changes bring challenges for families and caregivers alike. For the caregivers, you’re on the forefront of something that has yet to be standardized, yet holds a lot of hope and opportunity. Despite the number of studies, observations, advancements and resources, in many cases, you’re learning as you go – whether you’re providing meaningful activities or medical care. You truly live in the moment.

Never forget: You can truly feel good about the service you provide. Rest in the fact that you’re helping families, helping to define an industry, and making people’s lives a little bit easier. For that, we salute you.


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Rite Aid Offers Incentives to Customers wellness 65+ Pharmacy chain Rite Aid recently launched the very first drugstore loyalty program for consumers age 65 and older, appropriately named wellness65+.

wellness65+ builds on the company’s successful wellness+, a free customer loyalty program. wellness65+ includes one special savings-day per month, and 24/7 access to a pharmacist. Members who purchase more also become eligible for greater discounts and additional wellness benefits, such as a gym membership.

The integrated marketing campaign features interesting clips of seniors who engaged actively in various activities such as water-fighting with grandchildren and swimming laps. A full-page ad running in AARP The Magazine shows an older woman on an amusement park ride with a child, with headline copy that reads, “Here’s to suddenly remembering where laugh lines come from. Feeling and living your best. Rite Aid is committed to helping you realize it, with exclusive, new benefits for seniors.”

Rite Aid also launched a 30-city bus tour to promote the program. At each stop, the company will partner with local senior organizations to host community wellness events, including free health screenings, seminars and pharmacist consultations.

Is it working? The company reports that wellness65+ had more than 25 million active members as of the end of the first quarter of the current fiscal year. Those program members also generated 77% of non-prescription sales and 70% of prescriptions filled in the same time period.

MARKETING INSIGHT: This program was probably a reaction to competition from other chains and large retailers like Walmart and Target, who offer discount prescription programs. But Rite Aid obviously sees the benefit of targeting Boomers and seniors – no doubt a large portion of their existing customer base.

Along with this loyalty program, perhaps the next step is to use customer information to develop mobile marketing plans for pharmaceutical products and prescription management, for example – something that would appeal to tech-savvy Boomers. Increasing the size of its senior patient base will also allow Rite Aid to provide additional services (like immunization and medication therapy management) to a demographic that will benefit the most from those services.


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dementia puppies in training When most people think of service animals, the seeing eye dog usually comes to mind, and in all fairness, service dogs were primarily trained to serve the vision impaired. But recently, animal therapy is meeting memory support, as dogs are now being trained for dementia assistance, as demonstrated by a BBC documentary highlighting a program underway in Scotland.

The idea came, interestingly enough, from a student service design project at the Glasgow School of Art. Working in tandem with Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs Scotland, the team developed a program to train two dogs for 18 months. The dogs were trained to perform general tasks, as well as remind their owners where their clothes are, which medications to take, and to raise an alarm in the event of an emergency.

“Dogs love routine. They love that predictability,” said Helen McCain of Dogs for the Disabled in an interview with BBC News. “By using that hook, we can then teach them to actually sort of remind people by the sound of an alarm to go and get the medication at the allotted time of the day.”

Since memory impaired patients may withdraw from people, professional caregivers note that animal therapy can help them counteract those feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as relieve depression, agitation and disorientation. Others simply enjoy the companionship and physical contact provided by the animal, hence their popularity in the eldercare setting.

Oscar, a golden retriever, and Kaspa, a Labrador, have now been working with their new owners for the last 4 months, and results have exceeded expectations. For more on the program and its success stories, click here.

MARKETING INSIGHT: The senior care industry was one of the first to recognize the benefits of animal therapy, and is now warming to the idea of allowing residents to have pets – something we saw firsthand during Project Looking Glass II.

For many communities, wellness programs, hospitality and living options are ways to stand out from the competition. However, as the rate of Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related conditions reach alarming rates – and as many communities struggle to adjust their assisted living sectors for those increasingly entering with memory issues – a pet program could be a unique element that would make the transition easier for new residents, and act as a unique community differentiator.


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reading and writing can also have a huge effect in fighting memory loss We’ve seen evidence of how factors such as watching your diet, exercising, and even remaining in the workforce or managing blood sugar appropriately have positive impacts on mental health. Now a recent study has found that a lifetime of reading and writing can also have a huge effect in fighting memory loss.

A research team at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago studied approximately 300 older adults (all over age 55) for a period of six years. Participants were given a survey to determine how frequently they read, wrote or did similar activities as children, adolescents, through middle age, and at their current age. The subjects were then tested for their memory and other mental abilities every year until they died, after which their brain tissue was examined.

The rate of cognitive decline among older adults who reported frequent reading and writing later in life, for example, was 32% lower than those with average or low mental activity (compared with a rate of 48% among people who were less mentally active). Autopsies also revealed that the brains of more mentally active participants showed fewer physical signs of dementia.

“Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these across a person’s lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age,” lead author Robert S. Wilson, senior neuropsychologist of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, said.

There’s been debate over whether brain activity can resist, prevent – or simply postpone – the effects of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Prashanthi Vemuri, an assistant professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic, told HealthDay that researchers have long argued whether staying mentally stimulated helps slow cognitive problems, or if those who stop doing mental tasks do so because they are starting to show symptoms of dementia.

“This study gives evidence to the former theory,” he said. “It confirms that whatever is happening in the brain is happening, but the cognitively stimulating activities a person does independently slow down the progression of the disease.”

MARKETING INSIGHT: No one should underestimate the importance of staying mentally or physically active for as long as possible. However, experts recommend a combination of the two – not simply choosing between reading a book or taking a walk.

What this research does provide, however, is something that could be promoted as a benefit of a comprehensive wellness program – something that would appeal to the incoming generations who are increasingly being affected by memory issues, and are seeking unique programs that show tangible results.

Although many retirement communities claim to offer “wellness programs,” we’ve seen through our own research that the concept of “wellness” goes beyond the swimming pool, a craft room, a walking path or standard group activities. There’s a huge demand for an ongoing, full-culture comprehensive and adaptive wellness environment. In many cases, potential residents look directly at these programs in their decision-making process.


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Products We Like: LiftWare Spoon According to the National Parkinson Foundation, around 1 million people currently suffer from Parkinson’s disease in the U.S., and 50,000-60,000 new cases being diagnosed each year.

For those suffering from the disease, simple tasks such as eating can become increasingly difficult as tremors increase. The LiftWare spoon, developed by Lift Labs, addresses that issue by providing a simple way for sufferers to maintain their independence in one area of their life.

Created by Anupam Pathak, a student at the University of Michigan, the spoon features anti-tremor technology, which counter-balances the user’s shaking hand and allows them to eat without spilling.

Here’s how it works: An embedded computer captures motion signals detected by sensors, identifies the user’s tremor, and then moves the spoon in the opposite direction of that tremor – a process the company calls “active cancellation.” You can read more from the developer and the research behind the technology here.

The LiftWare spoon will be available in September at an MSRP of $295, and includes “Lift Pulse,” a free iOS and Android app that records and calculates the magnitude of the tremors using the phone’s built-in accelerometers.

MARKETING INSIGHT: Although the disease can affect any age group, it’s more prevalent among Boomers and seniors, so just like memory issues, we’re bound to see a subsequent increase in the occurrence of the disease as the population ages. Most existing utensils that are used for therapeutic or restorative dining are focused on ergonomics – this unit is “smart.”

Raised awareness and high-profile persons suffering from disabilities (thank you, Michael J. Fox) have helped to stimulate the number of products and services catering to those consumers. Food and beverage brands, as well as houseware companies, senior care and therapy providers would be wise to partner with smart tech innovations and find ways to cater to the physical ailments suffered by Boomers and seniors.


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new lifestyles iphone app In the past year alone, we’ve seen a number of online research portals dedicated to helping find and review senior care options, and an even larger number of apps dedicated to everything from specialized caregiving to therapy plans. Now, one company is combining the best of both platforms.

Dallas-based New LifeStyles recently launched an iPhone app that displays senior living options in a given geographical area. A geo-mapping feature allows users to see nearby resources based on a current location, and tailor their searches to a specific region or even type of care – CCRC, assisted living, skilled nursing or memory care. Communities and services types are identified by a color-coded system, and users can receive directions on a map, visit a Web listing, and can even contact a community by calling or emailing directly from the app.

Doug Fusella, New LifeStyles president and COO, elaborated on the technology in a company press release: “An individual’s search for a qualified senior living community often begins with a sudden loss-of-health event that injects urgency and confusion,” he says, “often resulting in poor and costly choices. Even when there is time for a leisurely review, the attempt to make viable comparisons can seem bewildering. With these new digital channels, users can make fast and well-informed decisions from anywhere.”

User guides are available in printable and digital PDF versions, and for those who (still) have not gone mobile, a free app site is accessible from a standard computer. Users can locate links to other pages and websites, and can email pages from the digital guide to friends and family members.

Necessity was the mother of invention, according to company history. New LifeStyles was founded in 1987 by Les Blaser who, after a frustrating attempt to research care options for his mother in the Dallas area, published one of the first guides on nursing and senior care facilities. Blaser and his wife launched New LifeStyles Online in 1995 as one of the first online resources, and the portal now provides free information on senior communities, home health, hospice, and senior products and services for 39 markets in the U.S. and Canada.

MARKETING INSIGHT: As mobile phones become more common and content becomes more sophisticated, watch for more product and service providers in the senior care space to explore and adopt this technology. As we uncovered in our recent research, the upcoming generations are adopting mobile technology at a fast pace, for a number of daily functions, and note that they are definitely influenced by mobile content. They’re using them to download apps, read QR codes, or even enjoy entertainment – and much of the interest skews toward healthcare.

The impact of mobile internet will be a growing influence and enable marketers to communicate with this new generation of Boomers and seniors efficiently, since many enjoy browsing online in their free time and report being influenced by mobile content. For example, advertising on health or senior-oriented product sites would be one way to reach online seniors who may have a higher level of comfort with technology.

You can read more about the phenomenon in our latest white paper, The Great Disconnect.


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Cohousing Becoming the New Commune for Single Boomers It’s not a return to 1960s idealism, but it could signal a new model for senior living. We’ve talked about “intentional communities” prior, and specifically, a concept known as Cohousing. Now, the idea seems to be catching on as an attractive option for single Boomers.

A bit of history: The cohousing idea originated in Denmark, and was brought to the U.S. by two architects in the early 1980s with the idea of “improving the world, one neighborhood at a time.”

Cohousing communities are usually developed as small neighborhoods, with similar features: single-family or detached homes along pedestrian-friendly streets or clustered around a courtyard with as few as 10, or as many as 100 residences; and a “common house” that serves as a social center. Communities can be developer- or group-driven, and have even found ways to integrate into urban settings.

Neighborly interaction is encouraged, and often takes the shape of community meals, clubs or even businesses. Members say that collectively taking care of common property helps build a sense of trust, the feeling of working toward a common goal, and group decision-making.

The concept seems tailor-made for Boomers, many of whom live alone by choice, and are beginning to plan for a future that will keep them active, engaged and out of a nursing facility or a traditional CCRC (which, as we have found through research, are not currently meeting their needs or expectations) for as long as possible.

Boomers have also been the innovators of a number of living arrangements. “To [the older generation], living alone is the only measure of success, but the Boomers’ comfort with interdependence means there are many options,” Dr. Bill Thomas, an influential geriatrician and author, told the Boston Globe. “Aging in community, rather than all alone, is going to make the Boomers’ experience of old age different than anything that ever came before.”

MARKETING INSIGHT: Watch for new alternatives for independent living that provide more options, including intentional communities built around causes, religions, lifestyles or locations.

We like the idea of cohousing as a way for an existing senior living provider to further integrate itself into the greater community, or for an entity such as a homecare agency to expand its offerings. The best aspect of this concept is that it brings back the idea of “neighbors helping neighbors.”


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Technology Making Much-Needed Connections in Assisted Living It’s probably old news to senior care providers that changing attitudes and trends are slowly but surely shifting independent living to resemble assisted living, and assisted to skilled nursing, forcing services to evolve from lifestyle to healthcare.

Average move-in age for assisted living has increased from 82 to 87, driven by the economic downturn, and the desire to age in place. A number of those residents require help with multiple activities of daily living (ADLs), and – like their independent living counterparts – wish to stay at this level of care for as long as possible. More residents are also entering with memory issues, causing facilities to reexamine their building design, training and technology.

Technology, it seems, could be the savior of assisted living. Given the Transitional and coming generations’ familiarity with personal technology, employing healthcare-related innovations will seem neither foreign nor scary to them.

For residents with higher acuity, having access to Wi-Fi, a personal emergency response system (PERS) and a motion monitor safety system could be all they require. Others would benefit from medication management systems, care-planning systems and electronic medical records.

Although we’re not anticipating robotic employees anytime soon, something as simple as moving to electronic medical records could be a step in the right direction. Communities that have flipped the proverbial switch report positive effects on their assisted living services in the form of controlled costs, brand differentiation, increased staff effectiveness and, because of the added safety element and higher levels of care, fewer occupancy issues and increased length of stay.

We examined the role of technology in the CCRC setting in our recent Great Disconnect research paper. See how some communities are bridging that gap in the assisted living level in a recent edition of Senior Housing Business.

MARKETING INSIGHT: Technology could be the key for providers to redefine, rebuild and rebrand their assisted living levels. Developing and deploying technology will not only improve experience for both residents and their families, but making consistent, easy-to-access technologies a priority in living and healthcare spaces will be a necessity to attract the new generations of tech-savvy adults.

Contact us to see how technology could make a positive impact on the occupancy or bottom line for your community or organization.


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Boomer and Senior Healthy Eating Moves to the Snack Aisle Here’s good news for Boomers and seniors who like to snack: Apparently, you’re increasingly looking for items that help you stay healthy and active – something we uncovered in our own research, and now verified by the food manufacturing industry.

Milk producer Fonterra North America studied the snacking habits of more than 600 healthy Americans between ages 50 and 75 and found that more than half believe the ability to stay active has a greater impact on their health than their weight, although 30% also said they already have weight issues.

Fonterra also found two extremely polarized schools of thought when it came to those cravings. At one end of the spectrum, a large number of “unwavering indulgers” knows they have health issues and shouldn’t pick up that Twinkie, but they do it anyway. On the other end are three snacking segments who are active and willing to make real changes in their diet to stay healthy:

  • Active Seekers (16%) – They’re the active, nutrition conscious ones who are more than willing to make changes to their diet for health benefits. Think 70 year-old marathon runners.
  • Health Seekers (22%) – Not quite as active, but generally follow healthy trends and are willing to make some dietary changes. Think on-again-off-again dieters.
  • Open-minded Moderates (20%) – They’re the followers and are somewhat health-conscious but don’t have the discipline to keep up with a health program. They also try to eat well, but aren’t always able to. We’re surprised this percentage isn’t higher.

In general, Boomer consumers are looking for products higher in protein, and adding high-quality dairy protein to foods they’re already eating will be the easiest way to drive consumption. The meal most lacking protein and posing the greatest opportunities? Breakfast.

MARKETING INSIGHT: Manufacturers and commercial foodservices marketers, take note: Since this demographic is split on the benefit of taking pills, your industry will no doubt become the solution to some of these issues and trends as many would prefer to ensure their health through their diets. For those of you in the senior living industry, now is probably a good time to introduce healthy snacking options and education into your foodservice or wellness programs.

After years of excess in the realm of food, mature consumers have common concerns, and are taking a stand to control their diets. And as more and more people in this demographic continue their careers and postpone retirement, their reliance on unconventional, mobile-friendly meals and snacks will only increase.


The Varsity Team

Dementia “Village”: A New Model for Memory Care? Although there have been great strides in the study and treatment of memory care, the issue of the care environment itself is often criticized for lacking standardization. But a recent CNN segment spotlighted what could be a new model for care – a model that’s actually two decades old – and features the unlikely combination of memory support and independent living.

The world’s first and only “village” for dementia sufferers began as an experiment 20 years ago when a traditional skilled nursing facility in the Netherlands undertook an ambitious project to transform itself into an environment that would recreate the life their memory care residents had once known.

The six founders of Hogewey (aka “Dementiaville”) conceived the idea for a dementia “mecca” by asking themselves how they would like to live their final days should they be affected with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Despite opposition from the local and healthcare community, Hogeway was born.

Hogewey is a place where residents can live “normal” lives, without locks, with minimal medications, and doing the things they once loved – shopping, cooking, going to movies or a restaurant, and visiting the pub or the hairdresser. But in reality, they’re being constantly monitored by caretakers who staff the entire village and its attractions.

Those caretakers are also charged with making residents’ worlds seem as real as possible through food, music, individual home decorations and mood boards — or anything else that cater to their fond memories. Families have input in all functions of the village.

You can read the full article here.

MARKETING INSIGHT: People in Dementiaville will ultimately need 24-hour skilled nursing care – a level of care that urgently needs a set of regulations and standardization, particularly as the number of cases increases. However, for those who are still mobile and have some level of acuity, the concept is brilliant, as it addresses the familiar for those suffering from memory loss.


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skincare anti aging products Less than two years ago, analysts were predicting the market for anti-aging products, services and innovations would grow to more than $114 billion, thanks to increasing demand from Boomers and seniors.

To uncover part of that demand, we need look no further than Project Looking Glass II. What does skincare have to do with senior services? On the surface, nothing. But in that study, many of our retirement community subjects were still in the workforce and planned to remain there. Apply that mindset nationwide, and you’ve got tens of thousands of potential customers who are still looking to maintain a youthful appearance to remain relevant in the workplace.

The analysts were right and wrong. While the market has indeed grown, it has become saturated, and the category’s main contingent consists of women over 55 who report being confused by the number of products as well as their claims.

The industry has responded (wisely) with a “stage not age” push, launching new products that address skincare beyond the physical signs of aging such as wrinkles, lines and age spots. New innovations include products that address skin needs due to changes in life stage – including hormonal changes. Yes, you read that correctly.

Manufacturers claim that decreased estrogen production associated with menopause or aging can affect the skin’s ability retain moisture or repair itself.

Anti-aging skincare products that address changing skin needs beyond just treating wrinkles may help to bolster category sales. Murad leads the way with its Resurgence® line, targeting consumers going through menopause. Vichy Laboratories collaborated with not only dermatologists, but also obstetricians, gynecologists and psychologists to understand how women’s hormonal changes impact the skin. Finally, Naterra International’s Phase+line of skincare products is specifically designed to address the effects of diabetes, which tends to cause extremely dry, cracked skin.

It’s an interesting trend. And although it’s currently relegated to the high-end brands, experts are quick to point out that, given the competitive nature of the skincare industry, consumers will eventually see a lot of “me too” mass marketing.

MARKETING INSIGHT: The health and beauty market has always been a bit ahead of the curve, and they were early to realize the spending power of the mature market. Products that create unique positioning while addressing typical consumer concerns, as well as connecting a youthful appearance to workplace success are the opportunities.

Smart mature consumers already agree that lifestyle choices such as diet, sleep and exercise impact aging and its effects. However, products that speak to overall wellness, as opposed to just treating the physical signs of aging, could be winners.


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Convincing Residents That Being Green Means Saving Green There have been great strides to become more environmentally conscious, as we uncovered in our recent Project Looking Glass II and Next Generation studies.

Based on new product introductions with green claims launched in the last five years alone, the title of “green” as a mainstream product feature appears to be firmly ingrained in both consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers’ offerings as well as in the minds of consumers.

That idea has trickled down into the mind of the mature market consumer as well. Today’s Boomers and seniors are much more environmentally conscious than their predecessors, thanks in part to education and intense messaging on the state, local and national levels, and to the social consciousness common among the Boomers, and starting to appear in the current Transitional Generation.

In the retirement living market, community “Green Teams” and recycling programs are now common. But for the older generations, thinking environmentally is often a learning process, while for the younger set, it has become part of their lifestyle. As we uncovered in our Next Generation research, there was still some amount of skepticism regarding the true impact on the world.

Knowing this mindset, today’s retirement communities are slowly realizing that they cannot simply be “green for green’s sake,” but need to incorporate these initiatives as a means to produce measurable results, as well as shorten the learning curve.

Here’s a great example: Our PLGII subject community, Frasier Meadows, was able to move from a dismal 70% to a 95% energy efficiency by installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, high-efficiency boilers, occupancy sensors and 500 new windows. Residents and management alike saw the health benefits and long-term ROI.

MARKETING INSIGHT: In short, go ahead and be green, as long as it’s done in a practical, fiscally responsible manner and shows real results that benefit everyone.

Some communities have made efforts to overcome the notion that one person can’t make a difference by quantifying the environmental savings based on using their green initiatives, and differentiating their community to the environmentally-conscious.

From a marketing standpoint, a slightly different approach than the current crop of messaging (which centers on the cumulative savings based on “if everyone made these changes”) may need to be considered. Instead, providers may want to show how one single person’s annual – or lifetime – green habits can add up to savings on such things as plastic waste, pollution, and even money.

Sustainability and being “green” should be a collaborative effort. For residents, it should be promoted as paving the way for coming generations. For management, it should demonstrate corporate social responsibility, good stewardship of resources, and become a true point of differentiation.

The Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) has some great tips and tools for making your community green without breaking the bank, and proving benefit to all.


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electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR) The first impressions of health information technology (HIT) – including electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR) – was that it held great promise for improving healthcare quality and safety, along with reducing the costs of providing care in the post-acute or long-term care setting.

The last time we covered HIT, and specifically EHR in the senior living industry, several multi-campus communities had already made the switch into the paperless realm.

Some preliminary data from LeadingAge and Ziegler‘s jointly commissioned LZ 100 survey shows that 79% of the largest LeadingAge members currently have an EHR system in place and plan to increase their investment over the next 12 months.

Note that we said largest.

Despite the advantages of EHR adoption for the long term care facilities using them and payers, the systems don’t come cheap, and costs vary depending on the type of system being deployed.

The study noted that, under a Software as a Service (SaaS), where a provider contracts directly with an EHR/EMR vendor for an annual service charge, implementing the technology could cost nearly $260,000 for a 25-bed facility over a period of five years. A third party-hosted solution would cost the same facility $254,279, while an in-house solution would ring in at more than $355,000 for the same five-year period.

Add to this the fact that EMR and point of care solutions can place a strain on a community’s current IT infrastructure, and require new measures to be put in place for security and access.

The benefits of going “paperless” are well-documented. EMR systems have a direct effect on positive outcomes, staff efficiency, the virtual elimination of medication errors, increased face time with residents and family members, and yes, cost savings.

As assisted living and skilled providers begin partnering with hospitals and other care providers in Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), it will become more important to be able to move data seamlessly between those organizations, as well as provide hard data showing that they’re providing quality care.

MARKETING INSIGHT: For smaller facilities, adopting an EHR system remains cost prohibitive, and the likelihood of widespread adoption in the next three to five years remains low. Clearly, policy initiatives, programs and financing options must be put into place.

Those who are on the fence about such systems should consider the following:

  • Being seen as thought leaders with state-of-the-art technology;
  • The federal mandate requiring all healthcare facilities to have electronic health records;
  • The ability to align with an ACO or become a preferred destination for post-acute therapy;
  • Marked improvements in quality, efficiency and effectiveness of care;
  • Improvements to the quality of documentation; and
  • Reduced the paperwork for employees.

seniors driving Last year, automakers were reporting that “older” consumers were making up the lion’s share of new car buyers. Apparently, they didn’t believe their own numbers, as a new study shows that that same cohort is still buying more new cars than the 35- to 44-year-old age group, who were most likely to buy four years ago.

So who’s responsible? You guessed it. The Boomers who refuse to age, and apparently, refuse to give up their car keys. According to a new study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, the 55 to 64-year-old age group, or older Boomers, has now become the demographic most likely to buy a new car.

The study found that those consumers had the highest rate of vehicle purchases in 2011, while the youngest age groups had the lowest rate. Even consumers age 75 and above bought cars at a higher rate than 25 to 34-year-olds and 18 to 24-year-olds.

Industry insiders believe that one of the main reasons behind the numbers is that people are staying in the workforce longer, and thus remaining in the automotive market longer as well. Today, most Boomers live in the suburbs and expect to age in place in their homes, or are stuck in larger homes whose values have fallen. Driving is viewed as the key to independence and even self-worth. Given their propensity to remain independent, the next 20 years will see the number of U.S. drivers over 70 triple.

From a marketing perspective, auto manufacturers have been throwing good money after bad, spending billions to try to reach Generation Y and younger consumers – who are not driving as frequently or in as great numbers as the Boomers.

“You shouldn’t be chasing the younger people, you should be looking at the older people,” Michael Sivak, author of the study, told Bloomberg. “Boomers are trying to extend their youth as long as they can, both in terms of taking care of their bodies and in their expenditures.”

Sivak notes that automakers are having to rethink marketing to older drivers, who are no longer content to buy a large luxury sedan and drive it for 20 years. A good point is, however, that Boomers are not their parents’ generation. They expect to continue working and driving long into their later years. The challenge here is for automakers to develop models that cater to the specific needs of this aging population, without alienating them or younger cohorts.

MARKETING INSIGHT: The aging of one of the country’s largest generations will have a lasting impact on the automotive market.

There’s opportunity here for automakers to roll out more compact and affordable models that specifically meet Boomer needs. As Boomers age they increase the amount of participation in daily sport and leisure activities. With more Boomers working longer and having larger household sizes than previous generations, fuel efficient, compact vehicles, which maximize passenger and cargo capacity, may be an attractive purchase for this still relatively wealthy cohort.

For the senior living sector, it could mean providing more facilities to accommodate automobiles for those who continue to work and remain behind the wheel. In our research, Boomers looking at current CCRCs were turned off by the dearth of resident parking, and the absence of covered parking.

For local and state municipalities, this could mean investing in public transit and new roadways, and promoting the building of compact, walkable and mixed-use communities that minimize the need to drive as their residents age.

Varsity The Great Disconnect: What Technology Marketers Need to Know about Reaching Today's Boomers and Seniors Product manufacturers, electronics retailers, and senior service providers continue to miss the mark when it comes to tapping an audience with spending power and an increasing interest in crossing the Great Digital Divide. But that’s slowly changing, thanks to a new generation subtly driving the industry for themselves, their families and professional caregivers, according to Varsity’s new research white paper.

The Great Disconnect: What Technology Marketers Need to Know About Reaching Today’s Mature Market Consumer, is based on focus group findings of adults age 65-95, shop-alongs at major retailers, and observations gleaned while staying in a retirement community for one month during Project Looking Glass II.

The study examines how new generations of Boomers and seniors are using technology and making purchase decisions based on personal preferences, physical and logistical convenience and health-related concerns. It also identifies issues encountered while shopping the category, changing attitudes, and the factors influencing purchase decisions. Some of the top-level findings:

  • Today’s “Transitionals” — a demographic mix of Depression-era Silent Generation and early Boomers — are the driving force when it comes to product usage and expectations that were formerly the realm of younger consumers.
  • More advances have to be widely implemented in the senior living industry and in light of the coming generations’ familiarity with technology.
  • Children and grandchildren remain top influencers, both in terms of product education, recommendations, purchases and even repairs.
  • Companies that facilitate aging in place will play an increasingly important role.
  • Internet browsing is now a leisure activity, and many are influenced by mobile content.
  • Brick-and-mortar retailers should consider training staff to be patient with older, apprehensive consumers, or using peer “brand ambassadors.”

“Technology has changed the fabric of our lives, but many innovations found in the broader market have yet to take hold in the mature market,” said John Bassounas, Varsity director of client services. “But that’s going to have to change, either by choice or by pressure. This study will confirm many industry observations, but will also offer new insights that can serve as the basis for planning for markets ranging from retirement housing to retail.”

You can receive a free copy of the report here. Members of the Varsity team are available to provide in-depth presentations of the report, either via webinar or in person. To schedule a presentation or for additional information, contact Matt Bekelja at 717-652-1277 or