Americans have never needed aging services more. The aging population in the United States is growing exponentially. Seven in ten older adults will need long-term care and services—and there’s an emerging gap between the number of available caregivers and the number required to meet the needs of older adults.
Despite all this, our sector is not well understood by the general public. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic put a national spotlight on older adults and their frontline caregivers, a large number of Americans (35%) say they do not know how they view the sector. And, while public perceptions are mixed, more than twice as many Americans view the aging services sector favorably (45%) as those who view it unfavorably (20%). What’s more, as care economy issues moved front and center in the national policy debate, critical voices didn’t shake Americans’ support of increased public investment in care and services for older adults.
No group is more critical to how the aging services sector achieves its mission than the general public. That’s why LeadingAge launched Opening Doors to Aging Services, an initiative to help older adults and their families better understand the vital care and services that many of us will need to lead a fulfilling life as we grow older. Now is the time for us to reset the narrative, proactively telling the story of aging services to the public, policymakers, advocates, and others.
Increase awareness, understanding, and positive perceptions of the aging services sector.
While we know that aging services will touch the lives of nearly all Americans either directly or through friends and family, some audiences are better prospects for our efforts. Focus on the following segments of the population for maximum impact.
- Adults aged 45+, especially women are our key target audience because they are the most likely consumers of aging services for themselves or loved ones—and many are skeptical about or resistant to aging services. They say that good mental health and independence are especially important in their lives, as are good physical health, respect, and dignity. They spend more than four hours online a day and get their news from television. Digital newspapers/websites and cable television are their main sources for health and wellness information.
- Adults aged 65+, especially 75+ are an important additional target, as they are increasingly likely to need aging services—from a little extra help to significant support.
Our research shows that the people whose perceptions of aging services improved the most after learning about the sector are more likely to be white, have a household income under $50,000 per year, and have completed less education.
Fear and denial about aging keeps people of all ages from thinking about aging services until they face an immediate need, and some are skeptical of the sector. But knowledge and experience with aging services increases trust, and moves many—including skeptics—to view the sector more favorably. With Opening Doors to Aging Services, we have an opportunity to define the sector and all it has to offer older adults and their families.
- Offer a look inside aging services.
We know our sector is not well understood by the public and other stakeholders, so invite people to experience the value you bring to older adults in your community—virtually, in-person, or through storytelling. Show transparency, accountability, and a commitment to quality of life.
- Emphasize independence and strength.
Demonstrate how getting extra help from the aging services sector can mean greater independence and the ability to continue to do things that are important to us. Avoid framing communications around the needs and frailty of older adults, but around their value, dignity, and ongoing contribution.
- Highlight dedicated, compassionate care professionals.
The public overwhelmingly supports front line care professionals who support us and our families even under difficult circumstances. Spotlight the people who work in aging services, and highlight the bonds between care professionals and the older adults they serve.
- Demonstrate a commitment to delivering quality care and services.
Do not talk about the sector or individual providers as in crisis (older adults and their families are experiencing crisis). Emphasize quality and underscore how you are mission-driven—and if you are a nonprofit, say so.
- Focus on older adults and their families, not on providers.
It’s not about providers; it’s about the people we serve. Tell stories and frame communications from the perspective of the older adults and families—and enlist them as messengers.
- Talk about us, not them.
A majority of us will need some kind of long-term care as we age—so do not talk about older adults as “them,” but “we” and “us.”
- Frame aging services as a basic right for everyone.
The public believes that every American has a right to receive a basic level of housing, healthcare, and essential support regardless of age. Stress that a range of care and services is available for people from all walks of life. Reinforce the government’s role in ensuring affordable access for all.
When it comes to learning about or getting information about aging services and issues that affect older Americans, the public trusts the following messengers the most, according to research:
- Medical professionals
- Families of older adults using aging services
- Older adults currently using aging services
- Professional caregivers
With extra help from aging services, we can keep contributing and better enjoy life.
|We all want to stay independent and healthy as we grow older. With extra help from aging services, we can keep contributing and better enjoy life.|
|As more of us grow older, most families need some kind of extra help. Whether it’s long term or for just a few days, quality care and services help us live better and thrive.||Your community’s nonprofit and mission-driven aging services providers are dedicated to delivering a range of quality care and services. They are not motivated by the bottom line.||The compassionate professionals working in aging services are unsung heroes, experts in providing the essential support we need as we grow older.|
|We all have a right to a basic level of housing, health care, and essential support to lead fulfilling lives. Government must make a greater investment so aging services are accessible and affordable to all of us as we age.|
Personality and Tone
Upbeat, Open, Straightforward, Surprising, Compassionate, Competent, Dedicated, “We Got You.”
Visuals and Design
Strong design and visuals are imperative when communicating with older adults and their families. Leverage design, real-life images, and other graphics in your communications materials to capture the viewer’s attention and maximize impact.
- The text and layout of your materials can reinforce the principles of Opening Doors to Aging Services. Focus on simple fonts, high-contrast colors, and open, easy-to-read spacing.
- The use of photos, graphics, and videos is an effective tool to enhance the public’s understanding of the sector. Choose authentic and representative images that capture engagement, independence, positive emotions, and the viewers’ attention.
The principles of Opening Doors to Aging Services can be a filter for work across all branding, communications, and marketing. Apply the guidance and core messages in your everyday work to improve and reinforce understanding and positive perceptions of the aging services sector and your organization.
Opening Doors to Aging Services can also be used to mount a stand-alone awareness campaign in your community. Employ a range of tactics to reach your target audience, including:
- Community Events and Partnerships
- Social Media
- Paid Media
- Media Relations
LeadingAge will execute a national campaign in late 2021, making customizable creative materials and templates available for our members to bolster efforts.