The number of older people who live alone at home continues to climb: 13 million in 2015. And for women over 75, the numbers are even more shocking. 45% live alone, according to a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article.
that discusses the negative impact of aging at home — both on parents and their adult Boomer children. Many seniors aren’t living safely, yet they refuse to move or even accept basic help. Their adult children essentially become their assisted living plan, putting emotional and physical strain on that caregiver.
It’s an all too-familiar story for Jim, a Baby Boomer living in Pennsylvania. Like the adult children in the article, he’s dealing with a parent in poor health who refuses to move from the family home. At 85, his mother’s serious health conditions include chronic leukemia and Parkinson’s disease. She stills drives and recently came home with a scrape on her car, which she says she got by “hitting the mailbox.” (According to Jim, the scrape doesn’t look like it’s in the right place for that.)
For several years, Jim’s mother has toured retirement communities — and she even chose one — but has made excuses that she couldn’t move because she needed to get the house ready to sell. The “getting ready” process has dragged on and on, but his mom never seems to move forward. Family members have painted and cleared out, but there’s always more to do. Essentially, Jim says, “She’s making a decision by not making a decision.”
Why is Jim’s mom dragging her feet? One reason could be outdated perceptions about senior living. “Many older adults don't like the idea of someone telling them when they'll have their first cup of coffee or turn out the lights at night,” the Inquirer article states. They don’t understand that senior living communities are not like the nursing home of old where they once visited their grandparents.
Another reason could be a fear of losing control. While Jim tries to coax his mother to move, he’s frequently attempted to arrange at-home services to make her life easier in the interim. But even conveniences that younger generations have embraced get a firm “no.”
When Jim suggests grocery delivery, his mother says, “I’m not at that stage yet.”
Would she like a home health aide? “Sorry. I’m not at that stage yet.”
How about simple house-cleaning? “I’m not at that stage yet.”
Jim feels that, behind his mother’s refusal to accept any type of help is her fear of losing control. “The minute she gives in and accepts help, she’s afraid she’s going to go downhill a lot faster,” he says.
If his mother’s strongest emotion is fear, Jim’s is guilt. “If my mom falls and breaks a hip and gets forced into a nursing home, I know I’m going to blame myself because I didn’t do enough,” he says.
How can we, as marketers, help families in this situation? Not only by providing in-home and retirement community services, but by strategically marketing them with an educational component that addresses seniors’ fears of forfeiting control.
Their Baby Boomer children are in need of support as well. Jim, who suffers from headaches and insomnia, feels that his stress could be reduced by “some kind of aging expert with whom I could consult.”
He’s tried to reach out to local and state departments of aging but has gotten the runaround. “Fortunately, a secretary who answered the phone was extremely helpful,” he recalls. “She said that what I’m dealing with is very common and that the main issue is that families don’t cooperate.”
One of the most common times for opening the family dialogue is coming up: the holidays, when families get together and many times see a change in their parents’ abilities. Marketers of all types of senior services can help prepare families for that difficult holiday talk by arming them with strategies for overcoming their parents’ objections and fears.