Don't Use The V-Word
Updated: Mar 5
"Oh my goodness. You're so much younger than I expected. Do you mind my asking you how old you are?" Linda, in her early 70's, doesn't identify as a "senior" - at least not in the context that most people think of it. She seemed okay with the phrase "older adult" to describe what her age group - a cohort of "a forgotten age" in our space. Too young to be considered a customer. Old enough that she feels that her voice isn't always solicited.
"I'll be 38 in a couple of months," I said with a smile. She smiled back and said, "well, you're the next generation so I'm glad we're talking together."
We got to talking about how everyone in the senior living profession talks about purpose. For her it was so simply and eloquently stated, "to me having purpose means having influence."
Linda is the owner of a consulting business that focuses on massage therapy for seniors, holistic health practices, and healthy aging. She has worked in the field of the developmentally disabled in both operator settings (group homes) and advocacy roles. She has kindly engaged with my LinkedIn posts and content for some time now, and she even sends me private messages of encouragement whenever she sees an "unkind comment."
"We have to be asked our opinion. We need a way to express our ideas with the very people who say they're helping us." - Linda
The word spun my perspective in a moving way. Older adults don't just want to be heard. They need to have influence. Think of any purposeful pursuit you have had that didn't - in some way - result in your influence over it. Friendships, family, work, volunteering, community, a cause... purpose and influence are inextricably linked.
This revelation will sit with me for some time.
How many of our clients, customers, residents, and patients feel that they truly have influence over the products and services designed for them?
How many older adults feel listened to but not heard? asked for their opinion? invited to the table? empowered to influence?
A great part of her work is providing massage services for seniors. She wrote a book on the topic: The Spirit Method of Massage for Seniors: Raising The Bar by Linda MacDougall. She said that when she goes into retirement communities, she goes in and does her work and then leaves without anyone from the organization ever stopping to ask her to be a part of the conversation regarding care, wellness, and services for their residents. "Older adults who serve seniors have a lifetime of experience, but we're never really asked for our input," she lamented.
I paused to think about times as an Executive Director of a retirement community just how true that statement was. I regarded these senior experts as vendors. I made sure they got paid on time and that residents liked their programs, but beyond that I had a deep reservoir of expertise walk in and out of our community every day without real influence over the community.
As I stop to think on it, many of these experts who came in - whether to lead an exercise class, perform their art, showcase the therapeutic power of animals, or the many wonderful things they do in our senior living communities - are older adults themselves. They look like the families of our residents, and in some cases they looks just like our own residents.
Who better than they to provide insights and recommendations to change the way these places run? Linda's words rang in my ears again, "you're the next generation, James, so I'm glad we're talking."
Our industry often talks about not using the F-work (facilities). I think a new bad word has been added here today. The v-word: vendor.
Takeaway: Our Greatest Resources for Change Are Hiding in Plain Sight
Older Adults - give them ways to engage our business and genuinely influence it. Invite their voices to be heard in forums and with audiences who can create those changes.
Collaborators - formerly referred to as "vendors" - invite them to be a part of our care conversations and strategy sessions. Build platforms and a business model where their success is our success.
What other resources are right in front of our faces that we're not seeing? How are you empowering older adults to influence the products and services meant to serve them? Thanks for joining the conversation.