Technology Archives – Varsity Branding

Category: Technology

Guest post by Mary Muñoz, Senior Managing Director, Ziegler

This is certainly an interesting time for senior living — we’re moving away from COVID-19, although we’re not quite past it yet. The pandemic has taught us a lot about where we’re headed in the future, but there are also a lot of industry trends that have remained constant through it all. Let’s take a look at what’s trending in senior living right now.

Industrywide Growth and Consolidation

What hasn’t changed with COVID-19 is the population wave we have coming, with a surge in the 75- to 85-plus cohort. And with that, we still have many drivers that make our business an attractive one. For starters, there are those still living at home who don’t have anybody there to take care of them during the day. We have the dangers of social isolation among older adults. And there are those who can’t afford caregiving.

In addition, we’re seeing a consolidation trend across the industry. Why is this happening? Almost every transaction we’ve seen has involved a CEO retirement. We’re facing a labor shortage in care and dining, along with a shortage on the C-suite side, as fewer people are coming into the senior living business, although larger organizations have some advantages in recruitment and career path offerings.

Ongoing Labor Market Challenges

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the labor market a bit. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting almost 1.2 million annual job openings in senior living. Worldwide, we’ve already crossed the line in the past couple of years that there are fewer people under 5 than there are those 65 and older.* That means we literally won’t have the bodies to do things the way we’ve done in the past. So, we have to find ways to reinvent how work is getting done in our communities.

The pressures are coming from many different directions. We’ve got financial struggles, and the changing demographics of who’s coming into the workforce. Government reimbursement is under pressure, which in turn affects health care worker wages. The pandemic caused clients to lose employees because they refused to be vaccinated or simply burned out. Immigration was disrupted and a lot of the caregivers we get from across the border were affected. And then we have the lasting issue that senior services isn’t exactly a sexy line of work.

Stressors in Skilled Nursing

For post-acute care, I want to highlight the compounding challenges in the skilled nursing environment. COVID-19 definitely exhausted and burned out employees. There’s also the need for private rooms, which many communities did not offer pre-COVID. And a lot of the nursing communities are old, with declining occupancy, in part because we didn’t have assisted living and memory care until recent years. So, there were some people who didn’t need to be there and could be taken care of in a less acute setting.

All of these factors are leading to a downsizing of skilled nursing, and in some cases the transition of skilled nursing rooms to high-acuity assisted living. In fact, we’ve counted 35 Life Plan Communities around the country that have eliminated skilled nursing from their continuums in favor of high-acuity assisted living.** And there are many new communities being built right now that have no skilled nursing.

Technology as a Partner for Smarter Aging

There are many developing technologies that serve seniors in various ways. We’ve certainly had a dramatic rise in telehealth during the pandemic. Beyond that and electronic medical records — which most already have in place — there are resident engagement technologies, including dining reservations, menus and activities. There’s also been a focus on predictive technology, not only tracking footsteps but also predicting falls by tracking gait. That’s in addition to cognitive brain solutions, smart home technology and even robots. While robots probably won’t cure the labor shortage, we have seen communities using robots to deliver plated meals and bus plates in dining venues, for example.

These four takeaways are just the beginning of what’s trending as we emerge from the pandemic. For more information, feel free to subscribe to the Ziegler e-newsletter, refer to our white paper about health care technology or message me at

*Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Percentage of World Population Under Age 5 and Aged 65 and Over: 1950-2050

**Source: Ziegler Investment Banking

At our 18th sales and marketing roundtable, communities contributed ideas and talked about changes on their campuses. This week, Adam Grafton, vice president of culinary for Morrison Living, shared his tips for elevating environments while keeping communities safe.

Here are some tips from Adam’s discussion:

He and other Morrison Living employees live by this motto: “Through compassion and dedication, creating an equitable approach to memorable experiences.”

Elevating Experiences in the Next Normal

  • Assure Safety
    • It’s obviously more important than ever
    • How are we communicating this to current and future residents?
  • Deliver Care
    • Care of associates and residents
    • Focus on wellness
  • Take Action
    • Look at opportunities to create innovation now and for the future


Take Action:

  • Wellness
    • Set snack time with fun vibes (music and dancing)—all while social distancing
  • Flexibility
    • Residents have been introduced to different styles of service and food

and will want flexibility moving forward

Consider creating a marketplace for groceries for purchase or delivery

  • Cognitive health
    • Superfoods—virtual demonstrations through community channel (e.g., health benefits of citrus)


Take Action:

  • Wellness
  • Equitable food solutions
    • iPads with menus
    • Self-order kiosks
    • Residents able to view nutritionals
    • Technology connects directly with POS at community
  • Flexibility
  • Cognitive health


Take Action:

  • Independence
  • Variety and flexibility
    • Takeout becomes more important, as well as other styles of service
    • Heavy on tech side with automated machines
      • Takeout lockers
      • Automated salad makers
      • Automated barista coffee machine
      • Virtual teaching kitchens
      • Robots to help assist with service
    • Experience
    • Socialization

Training + Engagement:

Take Action:

  • Retention
    • Let residents know that you’re thinking about them during this time with a takeout/delivery menu
    • Alcoholic/nonalcoholic drink kits to coincide with current events (e.g.,mint juleps for Kentucky Derby—which will be held on Saturday, September 5, this year)
    • Note that takeout items must be carefully selected as not everything will travel well
  • Safety
  • Pride of ownership

 Additional discussion:

  • Social distancing
    • Distancing of tables
    • Encourage reservations and staggered seating times vs. everyone attending at 4:30 p.m.
    • Dining rooms won’t be filled since there will be so many different types of services (market cafe, takeout, sit-down dining, etc.)
    • Staying 6 feet apart will be the new norm
  • Signage
    • Essential signs (floor/reminder to stay 6 feet apart)
    • General signage that assures residents, staff and visitors of the extra precautions your community is taking to keep them safe (washing hands/hand sinks)
  • Dining updates
    • We’ve reopened our dining rooms, but only at 25% capacity. They are being used at all hours (7 a.m.–7 p.m. for bistro and 5–8 p.m. for fine dining)
    • Our bistro is open with limited service times

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on July 30!

  • Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 30, at noon ET.

Mark Ingram from SenioROI will join us to share his thoughts on direct marketing and list procurement in the time of COVID-19.

For log-in information, contact

As more areas open up, communities met virtually for roundtable #14 to discuss this week’s reopenings and answer one another’s questions.

Check out the recap of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Questions from attendees:

What can our resident panel talk about in an upcoming Zoom call?

Ideas discussed:

  • Ask residents to share what they’ve been up to on campus (and the fun they’re having)
  • Talk about dining and activities
  • Discuss safety protocols in place
  • Talk about how the administration communicates with residents and keeps them engaged
    • Were you respected as a resident and individual?
    • How did the community try to keep life as normal as possible?
    • Do you have any regrets or wish you were still at home? (Use caution on this one; make sure you know what the resident will say)
  • Contrast social engagement vs. social isolation

One participant asked about struggling with visually interacting with prospects since they can’t meet in person. How do residents interact with people? Is a Zoom meeting better than a Zoom webinar platform?

Ideas discussed:

  • Webinars are good for larger conferences, and meetings seem to be better for more personal interactions with fewer than 10 to 15 people
  • Zoom meetings allow for breakout rooms and more personal conversations
  • Strive to book a private Zoom meeting in the days following a presentation to have a more personal conversation

We will explore this topic more in next week’s roundtable.

Join the next roundtable on July 2!

Come kick off the holiday weekend at our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 2, at noon ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email




Communities in different parts of the country came together last Thursday to share their thoughts and challenges as shutdowns continue. Jackie Stone, VP of sales at Varsity, joined our general discussion to share insights on virtual event topics and processes during social distancing.

Check out the takeaways below. You are also welcome to join our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Jackie leads a discussion on virtual presentations:

  • Presentation objectives
    • New lead generation
      • Use the purchased email list and lead base
      • Select universal topics of interest to anyone
      • Ensure that the presentation represents the lifestyle at the community and reinforces the established brand
    • Sales presentation
      • Target the lead base
      • Address common objections
        • “I’m not ready yet.”
        • “I want to stay independent.”
        • “I’ve lived here for 50 years; I don’t know where to start.”
        • “This apartment is so small.”
        • “I don’t want to live with all old people.”
        • “How would I even go about selling my home?”
        • “The economy/stock market is unstable.”
      • Personalize to the prospect
        • Customized to each individual prospect — what he or she values in life and in a community
  • Potential presentation topics
    • New lead generation
      • Mindfulness — Putting Your Practice Into Place
      • Healthy Aging: Achieving Wellness in All Dimensions
      • Living a Big Life
      • Dispelling the Myths of Retirement Living
    • Sales presentations
      • Decluttering Your Life to Make Room for Experiences
      • Living a Big Life
      • Bridging the Gap Between “I’m Not Ready Yet” and “I Wish I Had Done This Sooner”
      • Protecting Your Nest Egg
      • Does a Life Plan Community Make Sense for Me?
      • Selling Your Home in a Virtual World
    • Personalizing to the prospect
      • Presentation of the community’s services, amenities, residences and benefits
      • Video walking tour of the community
      • Happy hour Zoom call
  • Marketing automation
    • Targeting prospects
      • Email seminar invitation
      • Confirmation and login instructions
      • Resending of seminar invitation to those that did not open the original email
      • Reminder email two days prior to the event
    • Communicating with those who did attend
      • Post-webinar “Thank you for joining us”
      • Survey
      • What other topics might interest you?
      • Schedule a private appointment?
      • Next seminar invitation
    • Communicating with those who did not attend
      • “We missed you” email
    • Schedule a private appointment?
    • Next seminar invitation
  • Typical attendance expectations
    • We’ve seen anywhere from 7–10, 25–30 and close to 50, so it can really vary.

Where are you doing to go from here with marketing?

  • It depends on your community.
    • Examples:
      • One community is stretched for dollars because of the current bond market.
      • Other communities may have more money to spend, with cancelling in-person marketing events.
    • You may need to move dollars around in your budget. The focus will need to be on engaging prospects in blue sky projects. If you don’t use the money this year, you won’t have it next year! Spend it wisely, and don’t let it go.
    • An AL community in New York has online events/speakers every week. It’s very buttoned up and structured — link to check out:
    • I think we’ll be Zooming for a long time.
    • Follow these virtual call tips.
      • Do a roll call.
      • Ask what participants miss during this time of quarantine. If they say Starbucks, deliver a coffee to their doorstep.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on June 4!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, June 4, at 12 p.m. ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email




As COVID-19 continues to impact senior living, we held another virtual roundtable to see what sales & marketing tactics are working now — and what will change at communities after restrictions are lifted. Check out the highlights below.

All are welcome to attend our sales & marketing roundtable next week. Details below.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on April 30!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session, Thursday, April 30, at noon ET.

Kim Lehman, Varsity’s PR director, will join us for part of the session to share tips and trends on PR/crisis communications.

You don’t have to be a client to join the session — all are welcome. For call-in information, email


‘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.

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

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

Unexpected  Choices

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

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

 Personality Trumps Age 

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


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

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

DW’s Story: Reengaging in the Community

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

LW’s Story: Overcoming Depression

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

PN’s Story: Making a Friend

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

BC’s Story: Seeing His Dream Come True

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

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




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

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


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

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


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

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


Wayne: How has the robot changed over time?

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


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

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


Wayne: Does Ryan have a sense of humor?

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


 Wayne: Why did you create Ryan?

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


Wayne: Can you talk about the testing process?

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


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

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


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


Wayne: What kinds of results have you had?

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


Wayne: What’s next for Ryan?

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


Wayne: How unique is Ryan?

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


Wayne: When will Ryan be available on the market?

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


Wayne: How much will she cost?

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


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

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


Wayne: Are you surprised at where you are today?

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


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



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

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


Wayne: How did the robot pilot study come about?

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


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

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


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

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


Wayne: Was Ryan the same for each resident?

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


Wayne: How does Ryan help people with memory issues?

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


Wayne: How can Ryan help caregivers?

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


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

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


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

like these?

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

Stay tuned for more posts about Ryan, the companionbot. 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Are they age 55 and over?

Past the age of 62?

65 and up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aging services marketing is becoming more sophisticated each day. Providers continue to add tools to their marketing toolboxes, including a plethora of new digital marketing options. From IP targeting to marketing automation and display retargeting, each of these tactics comes with benefits as well as costs. How well do you understand them?

Created by our in-house communications team, and based on real-world experience in managing digital marketing campaigns for aging services organizations, we believe this publication will be an excellent tool for you and your team to better understand the digital marketing options available to you.

If you’d like to receive a copy of the guide, complete the form below, and we’ll send it your way!
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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.



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

Amazon Echo Show with an additional Echo Dot — $270

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

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

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

Nest G3 thermostat — $250

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

Philips Hue starter pack with two additional bulbs — $110

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

Schlade Z-Wave Connect Century Deadbolt — $200

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

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

Or maximize Medicare reimbursements? Or know early if a resident is unhappy? You can accomplish those goals and more though the power of data.

The benefits of big data analysis were explored in “Data-driven Decision-making: Gaining Clarity for Your Organization’s Direction,” a session at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting & Expo.

The presenters were Chip Burns, President/CIO, The Asbury Group Integrated Technologies; Kevin Purcell, PhD, Chief Data Scientist, Varsity; and Ed Lamberton, Application Development Manager, Asbury Communities Integrated Technologies.

In case you missed the session, here are a few quick takeaways:

  • Commitment to data is a competitive advantage in the ever-changing retirement living/health care space.
  • Data analysis should not be about a few canned reports at the beginning of the year, but about giving you the power to explore data independently.
  • Understanding connections in data can help you adjust quickly to changes in your local markets, meet new regulations and measure progress against strategic goals.

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


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.

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.


The Varsity Team

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.


The Varsity Team

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.

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