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New Report Exposes Major Gaps In Perceptions Between Consumers and Senior Living

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Research by Age of Majority and ICAA finds notable disparity in perceptions between senior living managers and staff—who view their communities as positive and vibrant—and 40+ adults who perceive senior living as depressing and boring.

Marketing consultancy Age of Majority (AoM) and The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) have released a first-of-its-kind report capturing and comparing the perspectives of professionals working within the senior living industry, as well as older adults who are potential residents or customers.

Unlocking the future: Closing the gap between consumer expectations and community offerings in senior living uncovers a notable disparity in perceptions between senior living managers and staff, who view their communities as positive, fun, healthy, entertaining, and vibrant, and adults aged 40+ , who tend to perceive senior living environments as old, depressing, safe, and boring.

The report explores the critical issue of aligning current offerings in the senior living industry with the evolving needs and expectations of prospective residents to help identify opportunities for actionable steps and strategic planning within the industry.

The report explores five key sub-themes:

  1. The disconnect in perceptions: Examining the gap between how senior living communities see themselves and how potential residents perceive them.

  2. The draw of "autonomous" living: Investigating the appeal of independence among older adults and its impact on their choices in senior living.

  3. Overshadowing lifestyle realities: Identifying how negative perceptions can overshadow the true benefits and opportunities within senior living communities.

  4. The amenities gap: Highlighting the mismatch between amenities offered by senior living communities and those desired by potential residents.

  5. The perception-desire duality in health and wellness: Exploring contrasting views between the perceived health and wellness offerings of senior living and the actual desires of prospective residents.

The following key themes emerged from the industry (ICAA) and consumer (Age of Majority)


  • There is a dramatic disconnect between the overall positive and welcoming environment managers and staff working within “senior living” think they offer and what potential future residents of their communities think about these communities.

  • Few older adults currently living in their own homes (i.e., possible future senior living customers) have plans to give up their current living situation and autonomy, making any senior living offering less attractive and a harder sell.

  • Positive steps taken by the senior living industry to appeal to potential residents may fall flat if they cannot overcome negative perceptions about the industry as a whole.

  • There is an apparent conundrum for the senior living industry in trying to build for the future (deliver what potential residents might want), while also overcoming the lack of recognition of the lifestyle and programs already being offered that support older adults’ aspirations.

  • The idea of health and wellness among older adults may differ from what they believe communities can offer. Active agers are confident in their future mobility and health, whether or not this confidence is well-founded. As a result, they may see less of a need for senior living, which they associate with nursing care.

The research suggests a few initial steps to take to close the gap:

Language matters. The word “senior” may conjure up a negative vision of the future and reinforce the negative perception of “old.” Communities may rename their residences and promote their chefs, but the marketing messages around the deliverables of programming and services have not necessarily shifted to focus on empowerment and the increased quality of life available in senior living.

• The words “senior” and “retirement community” may not appeal to a person who is working, feels healthy and may be looking for a nice place to live minus maintenance. Are these the right terms to use when describing a community? Even if a property is restricted to people in older age groups, is marketing that age group or affinity group more effective?

• Building on perceptions of social (the programs/people connect with) and safe is an action senior living can take. In the promotion of “care” are the ideas of aspiration, capability and ability being lost?


Revamp industry jargon: More than one-third (38%) of consumers think that all retirement communities are nursing homes, yet most communities do not even provide high-level nursing, although they may have access to medical care or to a nurse on site for first aid and monitoring. The misperception is caused, in part, by senior living communities themselves as they message their services in terms of care or industry jargon. Care may or may not be needed by older adults, but aspirations for autonomy and well-being exist

within every level of living or care.

Community Citizenship: If senior living providers do not currently offer residents a strong voice in decision-making for the community as well as for their own personal lives, they would be well advised to shift to a culture of autonomous living.

Cogenerate: Communities have the potential to overcome local misperceptions by doing a lot more outreach and opening their doors to people of all ages. Only 13% of staff/managers agreed that current residents don’t want non-residents coming into their community to eat or join programs, which means many would welcome them if planned appropriately. More than half (56%) of staff/managers agreed that residents enjoy having young people come by.

Fee Transparency: The cost to live in a senior living community is just as confusing for potential residents as the names and types of properties. How much it will cost initially and over time as fees change or increase is a mountain that cosumers likely find too high to climb. Fee transparency would help.

Download the report for free here.

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