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Looking Toward the Future of Senior Care Marketing

As MOVE Communications looks back at the past year, one event that stood out for us was LeadingAge’s Annual Meeting and Expo in Indianapolis over Halloween weekend. There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the non-profit senior living field than to attend the Annual Meeting and Expo!

The 2016 edition featured keynote presentations by national and international figures ranging from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg (author of Smarter Faster Better) to Angela Duckworth (author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance) to neurosurgeon and medical journalist Sanjay Gupta (author of Chasing Life) plus a raft of education breakout sessions, plus, of course, vendor booths.

But what I remember most is conversations at LeadingAge Michigan’s “Michigan Night Out,” held at the NCAA Hall of Champions that Monday night. Amid colorful exhibits featuring college athletes in pursuit of excellence and victory, representatives of Michigan’s leading senior services organizations chatted informally, sharing perspectives on where the field has been and where they see it going as they pursue excellence and victory serving the growing senior population.

I felt privileged to be part of multiple conversations about improving and expanding care options. Here are just three samples.


Presbyterian Villages of Michigan is the state’s largest non-profit provider of senior care services, with 29 senior living communities across the state, including 8 in Detroit alone (and another under construction there).

The organization focuses on increasing the availability of quality senior services in the state, especially to financially challenged populations. PVM has invested more than $67 million in six low-income senior communities in the city of Detroit, significantly contributing to revitalization in each of the neighborhoods. According to its website, PVM is ranked 75th nationwide by LeadingAge based on total senior living units, and 9th based on affordable housing units.

I met several PVM leaders, and was struck by their broad experience, professionalism and commitment. In the course of conversation, Board Chair George Millush, Jr., expressed resolutely that serving the financially challenged is central to PVM’s  mission—and that if that ever changed, he would no longer have personal interest in participating in the work! This kind of dedication to core values is key to the senior care field, whatever niche you or your organization fills.

UNIDINE: Fresh Food, Fresh Thinking

We also spoke with Susan McGinley, VP of Operations at Unidine’s Senior Living Culinary Group. Unidine’s focus is on improving the physical health of CRCC residents—and the financial health of CRCCs themselves—by improving the nutritional quality, taste, and presentation of foods using fresh, natural ingredients, cooked from scratch in-house.

It’s no secret that pre-packaged foods are rife with unhealthy ingredients. Susan was shocked to find the daily intake of salt at one client site to be 12,000 mg—nearly 5 times the government’s RDA of 2,300 mg! Of course, that has health ramifications, especially for older people, such as increased risk of swelling and altering the effectiveness of medications. Susan’s team is changing that site’s menu, carefully weaning residents off of the high-salt diet.

Unidine’s “Lead with Dining” approach integrates restaurant-style dining into a CRCC’s care model, not only to promote happier residents, but to increase occupancy, improve clinical outcomes, reduce hospital readmissions and control costs. The program includes training for dining and nutrition staff to help them recognize changes in a resident’s condition that may signal trouble.

Susan’s dedication to the health of her client’s residents was clear and inspiring.

FELICIAN SISTERS: Industry Perspective

Based in Chicago, David Ward is Senior Ministry Advisor and Executive VP of Senior Living & Healthcare for Felician Services, which operates nine residential senior care centers nationwide, including three in Livonia: Angela Hospice, Senior Clergy Village, and Marywood Nursing Center.

What struck me most about David was his joy—despite decades in the trenches of healthcare and senior care planning and administration. I was also impressed by his long-range perspective (and his command of the numbers!), drawn from experience in both the public and private sectors.

One observation particularly hit me. When David was working at CMS back in the ’70s, it was already planning ahead for the demographic shift from baby boomers to senior boomers. But the changes envisioned then, he said, are only now truly being implemented in the industry.

Looking Ahead

It’s exciting to see innovations in senior care. As David’s reflections indicate, we have to make up for lost time. Thanks is due to LeadingAge (and LeadingAge Michigan!) for their work supporting and linking senior care providers with each other and with organizations providing them services. We at MOVE Communications were honored to be welcomed among such a dedicated group of folks, and look forward to working with you as the new year unfolds.

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Staying on top of developing treatments can help differentiate your senior care organization.

Some of us at MOVE recently attended the Leading Age conference for senior care organizations. One of our key takeaways was how staying abreast of industry knowledge can help senior care organizations differentiate themselves in a competitive market. By demonstrating an awareness of the latest treatments, these organizations can show that they are working to provide the best care for their residents. As an example, we’d like to share some of what we learned from the conference regarding Alzheimer’s treatments.

Alternatives to Drug-based Alzheimer’s Interventions

The big disappointment in senior health news last October was the failure of Eli Lilly’s experimental Alzheimer’s drug, solanezumab, to yield results any better than a placebo in their latest clinical trial. “It’s not going to be disease-modifying therapy for mild patients, so that’s heartbreaking,” said Lilly’s incoming president, Dave Ricks. In fact, the company announced it no longer plans to seek regulatory approval for use of the drug in treating symptomatic patients.

While the search for a medication that can stall or reverse Alzheimer’s continues, non-pharmaceutical approaches have already shown promise not only for symptom relief, but for dementia prevention.

Symptom Relief and Reduction of Dementia Onset

At their 2016 Annual Meeting in Indianapolis in November, keynote speaker Sanjay Gupta highlighted an NIH-funded, longitudinal study called Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE). This study of over 2800 seniors showed cognitive improvements—processing speed and reasoning abilities—in subjects who participated in ten, 1- to 2-hour cognitive training sessions over a 5-week period. Remarkably, the improvements persisted for 10 years after the original training sessions. Even more encouraging was the 33% reduction in dementia onset over the 10-year period for those who participated in the processing speed portion of the training, compared with a control group. The reduction was even more significant (45%) for those who took “booster” training. The processing speed training software used in the study is now commercially available for individual use at www.BrainHQ.com.

Symptom Relief and Reduced Medication

Also at the LeadingAge meeting, LeadingAge conferred their 2016 National Excellence in Research and Education Award on a recent study called the Birdsong Initiative. This six-month study showed statistically significant improvements in symptoms both for dementia patients and for their care-givers when the patients regularly used touch-screen computers to interact with “enriching content customized to their personal interests and cognitive ability.” In addition to improved ratings on the Affect Balance Scale (measuring psychological well-being), 40% of patients in the study were able to have their antipsychotic drug doses reduced, with the potential for lessening or avoiding the side-effects associated with these medications. The study also resulted in reduction of systolic blood pressure—a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50—for residents using the computers. Plus, caregivers experienced reduced stress based on the Perceived Stress Scale.

“We can improve lives of those suffering with dementia through creative, non-pharmaceutical approaches,” said J. Benjamin Unkle, Jr., CEO of Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay, the senior care facility whose Foundation Board Member Susan Birdsong, proposed and funded the touch-screen computer study. The research was conducted at Westminster-Canterbury’s Hoy Nursing Care Center in 2015 in conjunction with the Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Sharing the News

As prospects in your market consider various senior care services, they want to find organizations that they trust and that offer exceptional value. One way to achieve this is by providing insights on emerging therapy breakthroughs. Your organization can distinguish itself as a reliable destination for relevant and authoritative content, which you can share on your website, or in an email campaign or monthly newsletter. Or, like Westminster-Caterbury, you can even serve as a research collaborator and let your community know about your involvement.


Eli Lilly and Solanezumab

Alzheimer’s drug fails in large trial.

Experimental Alzheimer's drug Solanezumab fails in large trial.


Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?

Training improves cognitive abilities of older adults

Cognitive training shows staying power


Birdsong Initiative

Study Shows Computer Engagement Improves Life for Those with Dementia, Reduces Caregiver Stress

Birdsong initiative shows success with reducing antipsychotics

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Senior Care Storytelling Lessons from LeadingAge 2016

A 75-year-old man visits his doctor. After giving the man a physical and running a series of tests, the doctor declares the man healthy. “What does that mean, doc? I mean, am I going to live to 85?” “Well,” the doctor asks, “do you drink much alcohol?” “No,” the man replies. “Do you eat many fatty or high-sugar foods?” “No.” “Do you participate in any risky sports?” “No.” The questions continue and, each time, the man answers, “No.” Finally, the doctor asks, “Then why would you want to live to be 85?”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta used this story (paraphrased here) in his keynote address at LeadingAge’s 2016 Annual Meeting and Expo in Indianapolis last week to illustrate his theme: Looking at Longevity.

His talk asked the question: Why do we want to live longer? What makes living meaningful for us? Spanning topics ranging from nutrition to technology, the upshot of Gupta’s presentation was that the person’s individual story matters. The Individual’s perspective and sense of purpose should be the driving forces behind our decisions and behaviors. Senior living organizations can play an important role in helping individuals live that out intentionally.

The Brain Story

Of course, as a neurosurgeon, Gupta talked about the brain, but less about surgery than about the relationship between aging and memory, reasoning, processing speed, motivation, and dementia. He pointed to a ten-year study which indicated that spending 10 hours over 5 weeks playing an Internet-based game designed to increase brain processing speed dramatically reduces the likelihood of developing dementia.

The Nutrition Story

Gupta also talked about nutrition: About balanced meals (eat 7 colors of food per day, and you probably won’t need vitamin and mineral supplements). About how the low-fat craze in American culture led to the damage of a high-sugar food diet (cut sugar in half for 10 days, he said, and you can significantly reduce your likelihood of getting diabetes). Despite nutrition’s importance to health, Gupta pointed out that most doctors aren’t trained in it. The medical world, he explained, is often geared more toward “disaster mitigation” rather than wellness optimization.

The Attitude Story

So much of our approach to aging boils down to how we view aging in ourselves and others. Studies confirm what we know anecdotally: our views change as we age. The older we are, for example, the less we tend to identify as feeling our age. Gupta urged that we keep our minds active by doing new things. Continuing to take on challenges that are meaningful to us matters. Making an impact on other people’s lives matters. “When was the last time you did something for the first time? Do something every day that is new, that feels risky. It will stimulate your brain and promote health.”

Marketing Success in senior care is a matter of connecting your story with your customers’ stories.

While Gupta’s work spans medicine and journalism, senior care organizations’ work spans an even broader range of fields: medicine, social services, housing... and marketing.

What stories drive you and your customers? What makes life meaningful for them? How does context affect their desires and choices? What makes serving them meaningful for you? What successes encourage you? What challenges inspire you to do things differently? These are the stories you must tell and as you do, you will attract those who believe there’s good reason to live longer.

Gupta is one of a handful of doctors who have successfully spanned the fields of medicine and journalism. A practicing neurosurgeon, Gupta is also an Emmy-award winning correspondent for CNN and CBS, a Time magazine columnist, and the author of several New York Times bestselling books, including a novel that was adapted into a television series. View Dr. Gupta’s CNN bio and some of his broadcast reports here.

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Living your brand story

Your marketing materials tell a story about your organization. Does your organization live that story?

Marna has just moved into a newly refurbished apartment in at SCF Senior Care Facility. On her second day, she notices a large puddle of water on the bathroom floor between the toilet and shower, and calls building services. Within 5 minutes, an engineer has arrived to investigate.

Steve is cheerful and polite. He checks out the toilet—no problems there—and then discovers that the new shower door wasn’t hung properly. Water easily splashes around the door frame and onto the floor.

In another 5 minutes, he has adjusted the door so it hangs square and blocks splashed water. Marna thanks him for coming so quickly. “We have 5 engineers on staff,” explains Steve. “If it were a weekend, you might have had to wait a little longer, but usually we’re able to take care of things right away.”

Brand engagement one story at at time

Marna has cheerfully told this story to both family and friends. Her experience speaks volumes about SCF’s care for its residents. Their response was immediate. The solution was quick. The repair rep was kind. The building supervisor even stopped by later to make sure everything was OK.

Creating your brand engagement stories

Does your facility have a story like this to tell? If so, tell it! If not, start reshaping your organization’s internal narrative (including your policies and practices) so you do have stories like this to tell.

Stories are how customers engage with your brand. The stories you tell about yourself set their expectations—and the expectations of your staff. The stories they tell about you confirm or refute your brand claims.

Your brand engagement is effective only when your customer experience matches the story you tell.

Tell it!

Live it!

Tell it again!

Have questions about how to increase your brand engagement through storytelling? We’re ready to help. Contact us at dhart@movecommunications.com.

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Brand engagement through stories

The goal of marketing is for customers and employees to engage with your brand—not just to recognize your name or logo or tag line, but to experience the value of the brand that these represent. This happens (or fails to) each time a customer interacts with your organization, whether on site, by phone, via the Internet, at a community seminar presentation, or in any other way.

A tale of two brand stories

Lillian is 95. She just moved into Snappy Senior Living. Now, she is standing in front of an elevator, gripping her walker as she navigates her new home for the first time without her daughter’s help. On the wall are four buttons, arranged vertically. The two on the bottom are plain white. The next one has a red metallic ring around it. The top one has a black ring. Nothing is marked ”UP” or “DOWN.”

Lillian hesitates. She finally pushes the bottom button – an educated guess, but still a guess – and the elevator doors open. As Lillian turns her walker, the doors shut and she is left still standing outside. She pauses, reaches back to press the button again, readies herself, and rushes inside when the doors open. Then she turns and searches the dimly lit panel for the correct button to take her down to the dining hall.

Across town, Elizabeth is standing in front of the elevator at her new home, Care Counts Senior Campus. The two buttons on the wall are clearly labeled “UP” and “DOWN.” Without a second thought, Elizabeth presses the one marked “UP” and, when the doors open, slowly and carefully enters the elevator. The doors remain open long enough for her to take her time. Once inside the cheerfully lit space, Elizabeth quickly finds the button to take her up to her second floor apartment.

Which story can your organization own?

If the first brand story is yours, it’s time to change it. It’s an example of failing to care for your residents and visitors. Like Lillian, you’re heading down. But if the second brand story is yours, tell it! It’s part of the way you subtly but effectively care for your residents and visitors. It is one of the many little scenes that contribute to the story of who you are as an organization and where you are headed. And, like Elizabeth, you’re going up!

Brand engagement success

Successful brand engagement occurs when the sum of your customers’ and employees’ interactions form a consistent and coherent, positive story. This happens when you carefully develop and disseminate not only your tag lines and vision statements, but when you implement and repeatedly tell the story organization-wide.


If you have questions about brand engagement, or would like help telling your story, contact us at dhart@movecommunications.com.

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