Author: Rob Smith

Rob Smith

In celebration of National Wellness Month in August, we’re talking to Becky Anhorn, fitness and wellness director at Meadowood Senior Living, a faith-based, single-site Life Plan Community in Worcester, Pennsylvania. Becky is legendary at Meadowood for her enthusiasm for wellness. She has a passion for helping every individual achieve the highest level of well-being possible.

Hi, Becky! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Can you tell us a little about your background?

In addition to my fitness and wellness training, I have a master’s in social work, and I’ve been a dancer all my life.

What’s your experience been like at Meadowood?

It’s been pretty amazing. I’ve built so much rapport with the staff and residents here. It’s a very welcoming, progressive and innovative environment. As far as ideas go, nothing’s really off the table.

How is the wellness program unique?

We’re always looking at new trends that are out there across the country and incorporating them. It’s a diverse age group, so some residents work 9 to 5 and are looking for evening programming, while some prefer to work out in the morning and have different interests outside of the community. It’s really taking a look at the population as a whole and programming accordingly.

Can you talk about your commitment to employee wellness?

We believe that, if we have healthy staff, then we have healthy residents. That’s why we offer five staff fitness classes a week and pop-up wellness events, from aerobics to meditation to a softball league and wellness walks. We feel that there should be fun in fitness! It’s a breakaway from the day-to-day of work — just taking an opportunity on a lunch break to head out on the fitness courtyard and play badminton, enjoy snacks, be with other people and step outside of our comfort zone.

How does Meadowood nurture all six dimensions of wellness?

We don’t just look at the physical piece, but at all of the components that contribute to well-being. We offer tai chi, yoga, brain health classes and a lot of specialty classes. Our 11 certified wellness team members come from very diverse backgrounds. We have personal trainers, a dementia specialist, two people with a social work background and a wellness coach who is also an author. All of us collaborate to offer expertise that covers all dimensions of wellness.

What has been the reaction to all of the wellness offerings?

Our participation rates have gone up exponentially in the past year. I think that is attributed to the fact that residents and staff have a lot of say in their wellness program.

What role does technology play in wellness?

It helps us keep track of the residents’ progress. It’s starting at a baseline, doing a fitness test, seeing their balance, coordination, mobility and fitness levels and tracking all that to navigate their individual wellness programs.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Seeing people open themselves up to a different level of wellness than they thought possible. Residents come to me and say, “I took a stress test, and there were a lot of red flags for me. Then I started taking your classes, and I passed the stress test with flying colors. I know it has to do with the programming that you have here.” That makes me want to come into my job every day. It’s really the impact that I’m having on the residents and seeing that they’re living healthier, better lives.

For more wellness insights from Becky, watch the video below.

Rob Smith

At Varsity, we take every opportunity to get into the mind of the mature market, so we thought, “What could be better than using the social media phenomenon, FaceApp, on one of our own, James Schorn, resource manager at Varsity?” I decided to capture a few of James’s reactions to seeing himself aged several decades.

Q. Did seeing yourself aging change your perceptions about growing older?

A. It was refreshing to see myself aging like fine wine, as opposed to aging like milk…All kidding aside, I did feel that my spirit remained resilient, and that confirmed the many experiences I’ve had with older people ever since my first job working in the dining room of a retirement community. I think what I have always enjoyed about the mature market is seeing how happy and active this generation is. I love hearing about their life experiences. Sometimes it seems as if the world classifies our older generations as weak and fragile. Based on my experiences, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Nothing is more inspiring than a couple that has been married for 50+ years and still loves each other, day in and day out.

Q. What are your responsibilities at Varsity?

A. I’m in charge of quotes, scheduling and planning of projects. Through my career, I have overseen hundreds of projects of all different scopes. This has allowed me to use knowledge from past initiatives to ensure that our future projects run efficiently while giving our clients the best possible return.

Q. Are there any myths that still need to be debunked about aging, and the senior living industry specifically?

A. The overall perception of senior living needs to change. From my visits to communities, I have seen personally that they are built on friendship, trust and care. From residents to staff members, everyone looks out for one another. This generation is made up of strong individuals, and they should be respected for their impact on this world.

 

Rob Smith

Today, Arielle Shapiro, the owner, operator and lead art consultant at Silver Cat Design, a corporate art consultation and interior décor company in Denver, CO, shares her insights into the importance of art in senior living design.

Rob: What is an art consultant?

Arielle: An art consultant is an art-minded professional who assists in the vision for art selection and other art-related projects. My branch of art consultation is primarily focused on senior living and corporate art selection — I advise where art should be hung, choose the artwork, have it framed and oversee the final installation. I purchase artwork from showrooms and online sources, as well as independent artists. I am a fine artist myself, so sometimes I choose to create a piece for a project.

Rob: Why is art important to a senior living community?

Arielle: Art is an enormously enriching and important element in day-to-day community life, especially when it comes to an environment like senior living. These communities are most often seniors’ forever homes, where the residents spend all of their time. Having a thoughtfully chosen, inspiring collection of art will vastly improve their lives. Art inspires personal connections, sparks conversation, stimulates memory recall and brings overall joy and beauty into communities, benefiting both residents and team members.

Rob: What are some of the design trends you are seeing in senior living communities?

Arielle: Paisley, checkers and “Grandma’s house” decor is a thing of the past. Current-day senior living design is incredibly modern, chic and unique, comparable to a luxury hotel. Interior design for these communities is forward-thinking, revolves around community focal points like the dining and lounge areas and caters to Baby Boomers — those who were on the forefront of technology, abstract art, cultural dining and aging independently without the assistance of younger generations. New senior living is sculpted to fit these active seniors’ lifestyles in many facets, from exercise rooms to hobby shops to pubs with beers on tap. Senior living is shifting as far away from the old “retirement home” aesthetic as possible.

Rob: Do you have any research you can share about the benefits of art for older adults?

Arielle: Absolutely! Evidence-based design proves that art and color play an integral role in brain function, especially for the very young (infants) and elderly, like those who experience cognitive slowdowns or issues like Alzheimer’s disease.

Rob: How can art impact memory-impaired residents?

Arielle: Color theory and evidence-based design prove that certain patterns, colors and images can stimulate a plethora of positive thoughts, emotions and sometimes memories. Cool colors, like soft blues, greens and earth tones, can help a memory-impaired resident to feel calm, while soft pinks and oranges can stimulate happy or energized feelings. An image of a 1955 Jaguar car, for example, could help a resident recall a memory of once seeing that car in his or her neighbor’s driveway. An image of a poppy field in spring may bring a resident a sensation of serenity or joy. Selecting artwork for memory care is a very involved, special and fragile practice that requires an extraordinary level of care and consideration.

Rob: Can you give me a few examples of the types of senior living projects you have worked on recently?

Arielle: My most recent project is a luxury senior living community located in the Tech Center area of Denver, Colorado, called The Carillon at Belleview Station. I selected and placed over 350 pieces of art for this community. Village at Belmar in Lakewood, Colorado, is a project I will be forever proud of: one of my first large communities, where I placed art and accessories and furnished several model units. I also recently installed four incredibly chic model units at Pine Grove Crossing, a senior living community based in Parker, Colorado.

Rob: How can our readers find out more about Silver Cat Design?

Arielle:  I would encourage them to visit the Silver Cat Design website or engage with me on LinkedIn.

 

Rob Smith

It’s no secret — I love comic books. I collect everything Batman-themed and find myself inspired by the art and the story of superhero fiction. If you’ve participated in one of our branding presentations, you’ve experienced my passion, as we use Superman and Batman as examples of brand archetypes. I proudly take credit for that analogy!

“But, Rob, what do comic books have to do with aging?” you may ask.

Our favorite superheroes are timeless and never seem to age. Batman and Superman have managed to stay young forever, even though they debuted when my grandparents were children. Recently, however, some comic book writers have begun toying with the idea of what would happen if some of the most well-known superheroes got older.

Let’s start with my favorite superhero of all time: Batman. In “The Dark Knight Returns,” Frank Miller’s classic four-part miniseries, we meet a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne, who comes out of retirement to fight crime. The story may seem a little familiar, as the writers admit to being inspired by the “Dirty Harry” film “Sudden Impact,” released in 1983. Frank Miller has also noted that the story is a reflection of his own experiences with aging. In the book, Batman has to deal with the limitations that aging have caused, all while trying to guide and mentor younger heroes looking to take up a mantle similar to his. So influential was “The Dark Knight Returns” that it has been credited as one of the driving forces that created the Dark Age of Comic Books, characterized by a grim, seedy version of comic realism.

Another hero that everyone knows — and that I enjoy — is Wolverine, of X-Men fame. In 2008, he got his very own aging story, entitled “Old Man Logan.” In this tale, superheroes have been wiped out, and Logan has remained under the radar, hiding his famous claws and superpowers. But, after some urging from Hawkeye, who is now blind, Logan sets out on a cross-country adventure to deliver a package to the new capital of the United States, under the rule of the Red Skull. Throughout the series, Logan and Hawkeye encounter other aged superheroes, struggling to find their place in a world that is only looking to destroy them. It’s another gritty tale that weaves the aging process into a broader story.

The previous two stories posit the question, “What if a superhero aged?” But, in 1996, DC Comics asked a much larger question — one that is suddenly pertinent to the aging services space: What is the “succession plan” for superheroes? The story starts with the Justice League stepping down from their roles as superheroes after the general public endorses a new hero named Magog. Magog isn’t afraid to kill in the name of justice, thus violating the unwritten superhero code of ethics up to this point. This blurring of morality leads to “heroes” causing wonton destruction. Superman and the Justice League return to service to corral the out-of-control heroes, putting the team in conflict with Batman. During Superman’s decade-long absence, Batman has been training the next generation of heroes. The manner in which the now aging Batman and Superman go about training the next generation is a focal point of the story, with both sides making blunders along the way. If you’re going to pick up one comic book series to read, I highly recommend snagging the collected edition of “Kingdom Come.” It’s a fantastic story, with truly outstanding art.

At Varsity, we pride ourselves on having a fresh perspective on aging. Personally, I find it fascinating when unexpected mediums deal with the topic of aging. Yes, sometimes their depictions can be a little cliché, but other times — such as in the comics I mentioned — we get a different look. All of these varied viewpoints keep me refreshed and excited as I take on the challenge of creative development for our clients across the country.

Excelsior!

Rob Smith

When you think of LEGOs, what comes to mind?

You probably conjure up an image of small, multicolored plastic pieces that are used by children to build structures and vehicles for play. Perhaps you also remember trying to pick the tiny parts out of the carpet or stepping on an errant brick in the middle of the night, causing much more pain than one would expect. LEGOs have become an integral part of childhood for most American children. It’s a product that crosses social barriers and provides a unique play experience for kids of all ages.

We say “all ages” because the LEGO company has been embracing a new market, called “AFOLs” — adult fans of LEGOs. If you were to do a quick internet search, you would find a large and growing community of adults that are passionate about LEGOs; they dream up and construct magnificent and complex models, all built of LEGO bricks. Seeing the dedication of this community, and the potential for revenue, LEGO has been creating and marketing very advanced building kits, sometimes branded with pop culture properties, that appeal specifically to adults. Recent products have included TRON, The Beatles, the original Ghostbusters, architectural marvels from around the world and more. It truly is a golden age for the little LEGO brick.

However, the idea of “adult fans” isn’t just limited to younger adults. Increasingly, we’re seeing older adults that show a passion for LEGOs. From a purely objective standpoint, LEGO is a fantastic way for adults to keep working their fine motor skills, utilize spatial reasoning and engage in a creative exercise for the mind. Around the world, people are beginning to realize that spending a little time playing with LEGOs can be great for any age.

Lori Burdoo used to curate a Facebook Page called “Good Gifts for Senior Citizens.” On her Page, someone suggested LEGOs. This inspired her to look at the product from a whole new angle. She was especially interested in how LEGOs could benefit people challenged with memory loss. She notes that nearly anyone can use LEGOs, as the bricks come in multiple sizes. Even those with arthritis or other motor impairments can manipulate the larger bricks. Then, Lori discovered some of the more adult-focused sets LEGO had created in recent years, such as the Birds set, the more finely detailed LEGO Architecture series and the LEGO Ideas collection.

LEGO Ideas started in 2008 as a way for users to submit their own LEGO designs to the company in an effort to get LEGO to sell their creation officially. The platform works much a like a petition page, with people able to signify their support for specific builds. If a user-submitted build reaches 10,000 supporters, LEGO will officially review the product for creation. Currently, 23 entries have been turned into official LEGO products. Sadly, however, one product did not generate enough support — “Senior Builds.”

Senior Builds posited the ability of LEGO to have a creative impact on an older audience. It cites the brain stimulation that others have discovered, along with the ability to hone manual dexterity. To be fair, the project was not well-fleshed out, but the germ of an idea is there. Could LEGO design a set to be specifically marketed to older adults, challenging them appropriately? It does seem like a very interesting idea!

At Varsity, we live the idea of “fresh perspective.” As a creative director, I value the lessons that can be learned from creative play, no matter the age. My desk is home to many toys from my favorite pop culture properties. I know that I will continue to enjoy creative experiences for the rest of my life, so I can only imagine that the current generation of community residents feels the same way.

LEGO: It could just be the next big thing in senior living activities!

Sources:

https://goodgiftsforseniorcitizens.com/2016/05/06/legos-for-seniors/

https://ideas.lego.com/projects/e328c678-1ba6-4dda-a7e8-835f520802e7

Rob Smith

Last week, it was announced that Toys “R” Us, the ubiquitous American children’s retailer, is filing for bankruptcy and shuttering a huge number of locations. As we read this news, it struck us that the retail chain is really a Boomer brand in a lot of ways. As of 2018, Toys “R” Us was a 70-year-old company. While it didn’t start specializing in toys until the late 1950s, the retailer has certainly been a part of mainstream American life for the better part of a century. Always curious, we asked ourselves what the demise of this brand says about Baby Boomers and changing generations.

First, we recognize that only a small part of the Baby Boomer generation would remember Toys “R” Us from their youth. As a brand, it was headquartered where it was founded, in Maryland. Of course, that means much of the early growth for Toys “R” Us was in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, limiting its initial exposure. Sure, some Boomers may remember the organization and its giraffe mascot from their childhood, but for most Boomers, this is a brand that has memories tied to the rearing of their children — rather than to their own younger years — which makes it an especially interesting brand to understand.

Boomer parents built Toys “R” Us; Millennial parents and Boomer grandparents killed it.

For many Generation X and Millennial children, Toys “R” Us was a fabled destination that their parents took them to as a treat. It was a fantasyland where kids ruled and toys were the only product to look at. For Boomer parents, it’s where they would go to purchase the hot toy at Christmas, a child’s first bike in the spring and that newfangled Nintendo that hooked up to the television. By being a category-killer retailer, the brand was able to push out any competition, helping it to corner the market. Because of this, Toys “R” Us found that it had become a part of the American experience of raising children. Family memories were created at and because of Toys “R” Us stores — but the retailer failed to keep up with the times.

First, came the big-box stores, especially Walmart and Target, which have continued to expand their toy selection throughout the years. Why would a parent go to Toys “R” Us when they could just pick up a treat for their child at the store they were already at? This turned Toys “R” Us into a destination store rather than a habitual stop. From that angle, it makes sense. We’ve all seen the unbridled passion of a child let loose in a toy store. This excitement can easily become a parent’s worst nightmare — screaming children begging for an expensive toy, as well as tantrums galore. A trip to Toys “R” Us could just as easily devolve into a parental hellscape as much as create a lasting memory.

Then came the Generation Xers and the Millennials. They were the ones who had thrown themselves to the tiled floor of a Toys “R” Us as children, crying until a toy was purchased. Having been the child in that situation, newer generations eschewed the brand, opting instead to purchase toys in a different way — online and at steep discounts.

Why chance a tantrum in the aisle when you could just sit at home on your laptop and make a purchase? Plus, as a consumer, you were no longer limited to what was on the shelf. If little Emma wants a Malibu Barbie, why go to a store that is probably sold out? Surely Amazon has the exact doll in stock and ready to ship, arriving at your door in two days or less.

Convenience. Service. Choice.

These are the factors that lead to the downfall of Toys “R” Us. As aging services providers, we can learn from this very public brand collapse. Are we repositioning our services and amenities to appeal to a changing consumer? When the Boomer phases out as our target consumer — which is still a decade or more down the road — how will we change our marketing strategy to appeal to Generation X and, later, to Millennials?

While many aging services marketers will retire before that reality hits, we must recognize that the marketing coordinators and salespeople that we are hiring today are the marketing directors of tomorrow. They are learning from our leadership, and we must be conscious of the future to come. Otherwise, we could end up just like Toys “R” Us: a fond memory of a brand built by the generation before, which just didn’t keep up with the times.

Source:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toys_%22R%22_Us

Rob Smith

“I just don’t like the look of our website,” says the sales & marketing director.

“Our printed material feels dated and isn’t representing us,” remarks the CFO.

“Life in our communities is bright and vibrant. I don’t get that feeling from our communications,” laments a board member.

These are all paraphrased responses that we’ve heard from organizations with which we’ve partnered. They aren’t uncommon sentiments, and it’s these types of opportunities that we work with every day. Having encountered these statements many times, we’ve learned that there is usually one common thread:

The design isn’t dated, but the photography is.

Having a repository of high-quality photos that can be used for your marketing efforts is one of the most overlooked resources in the aging services space. Everything that marketing does is affected by not having a file of up-to-date imagery from which to draw. Additionally, in our field, these images routinely become stale because of resident transitions and health concerns. A great photo can become unusable overnight, leaving you with a gap in the marketing imagery that is crucial for your success.

As a creative director, one of my biggest challenges is working to keep an organization’s marketing efforts fresh and interesting. While graphic design is a key part of each piece of collateral, having a strong library of photography is so very important. I liken it to having to work with a limited palette of colors — it can be an enjoyable challenge, but eventually, everything starts to look the same. Refreshing photographic assets can help shift a brand from stagnant to vibrant once again.

When a situation like this arises, we sometimes look to stock photography to fill in the gaps. Stock photography can provide the high-quality pictures needed to produce marketing products, but it also has the effect of feeling inauthentic, especially if someone sees the same piece of stock photography that is used for your community in another ad. Obviously, we want potential residents to feel engaged with your unique brand platform, making a library of photos that depict your organization appropriately much more valuable. For additional thoughts on how we’ve used stock photography at Varsity, check out our Engage: Boomers article, titled “The Real Way to Reach Baby Boomers.

At a minimum, you should refresh your photography once every two years. If you can afford to do it every year, that’s even better! If you’re thinking about developing new marketing materials, whether they be print or digital, we at Varsity fully recommend that you engage a professional photographer sooner rather than later.

At Varsity, we’ve worked with some outstanding professionals who specialize in working with communities and residents like yours. If you need help finding the right photographer, let us know, and we’d be glad to help!

Rob Smith

One of my favorite sayings is, “Design for older eyes shouldn’t be old design.” I find this phrase to be especially pertinent when tackling website projects. Whether it be building a new site from the ground up or refreshing an existing site, my top priority is to ensure that design complements and enhances the user experience. All too often, designers are looking to incorporate new innovations (some would say “gimmicks”) into their websites, all the while forgetting about how the end user will interact with them. While the latest plugin may allow you to add extra or flashier animation, it also runs the risk of confusing the user. Through our focus groups and user testing, we’ve seen this again and again, and it’s a problem that older users are especially prone to.

Avoiding these issues starts before the visual design process is even considered. The architecture and user flow should be the first considerations one thinks of before things like colors and themes are discussed. Understanding how potential users navigate your site will impact the rest of the design. Put yourself in the shoes of a 65-year-old that is exploring life at retirement communities — what is he or she most interested in, and how can you draw him or her into your sales funnel? Having a clearly defined “road map” that leads the user to the exact information he or she wants, along with a prompt to provide an email and phone number, is the foundation of a quality website that helps generate leads for sales staff.

Just as when you’re driving on a highway, you’re going to need some signage to help direct your website traffic along. This takes the form of the navigation on your website and how it’s displayed. The goal is to get the user to the desired information as quickly as you can, before he or she loses interest in the product that you’re offering. A good rule of thumb is that key information should be no more than two clicks away from the landing page, with only one click being optimal. If someone lands on your site looking for memory care, he or she shouldn’t have to click through information on nursing or assisted living. Creativity in menu design and user flow can make the difference between a site generating lots of leads and one that leaves potential residents lost on the internet.

Now that we’ve put all of this thought into the structure of the site, we can contemplate the look and feel. Often, this process is done in conjunction with a refresh in brand and market positioning, giving us a great opportunity to create a website that feels modern and fresh while still supplying the basic information that users are looking for. At this stage, I like to concentrate on two factors — contrast and readability. Remember: Older eyes can still appreciate modern design, but they have to be able to see it. Using high-contrast colors will make the site easier to read and navigate, producing longer visits, which in turn generates more leads. Readability goes hand in hand with this concept as I look for fonts that are easy to discern and large enough for users to read. Additionally, I may look to add a feature that lets the user make the text on the site even larger or change the contrast. By providing these features, we make our sites more user-friendly, helping to set us apart from the competition.

After all of this has been thought out, the real fun begins, as I can turn my creative mind loose and look for new and inventive ways to convey the community and brand visually. Working with our writers, art directors and account management teams, I look at the entire website holistically, bringing together a website that represents the vision of the client and the needs of the user in one experience. Whether a brand is trying to convey an active lifestyle, security and compassion or a unique living situation, it’s my goal to tie all of the creative assets together so that vision is carried through the photos, text, videos and interactive experience.

Just because the users of the websites I design tend to be older doesn’t mean that I get a pass and can use dated design. Quite the opposite, actually! Every day I’m challenged to create designs that incorporate the latest in digital innovation while ensuring that the user experience remains as seamless as possible. Agencies can easily become blinded by the desire to innovate something totally revolutionary. In my eyes, the most revolutionary designs are those that users may not even recognize, as they are too busy imagining themselves already making a life for themselves at the community the website represents.

Rob Smith

It’s Movember, which means that men all over the world are growing mos (moustaches) to raise awareness of men’s health issues. As the moustachery draws to a close, other traditions are sprouting: Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday.

How can Giving Tuesday organizers turn Boomer attention away from doorbusters and toward donations? One way is to take a page from the Movember playbook and target Millennials. Although this generation doesn’t yet have the financial firepower of Boomers, it can be the match that ignites the flame of Boomer giving.

“Younger generations are more inclined to get behind the cause because it’s an easy way to have fun while doing good, and the Movember brand is very indicative of that,” said a Movember representative. “This definitely sparks interest from older generations, who in turn are intrigued and want to learn more.” With support from all generations, the Movember movement has raised more than $710 million in 21 countries to fight conditions such as prostate cancer.

What style mo do Boomers like to sport? “A lot of older men like to exude sophistication with their moustaches,” said a Movember representative, “so The Boxcar and The Connoisseur are usually their go-tos.” Learn more about Movember, and check out the moustache style guide here.

Rob Smith

In senior living, branding can be particularly challenging because many of the amenities and offerings, can, on the surface, run the risk of sounding a bit similar. The community that hasn’t identified the most unique aspects of its culture may miss out on an opportunity to truly tell its story.

That’s why it’s important to find unique qualities that the community can hang its hat on: What is it about the residents and the staff that can be used to identify a brand that stands out in the marketplace?

To differentiate among communities, we need to look beneath the surface. How do the residents live? How do they interact with staff? What led them to choose this place over their other options? What happens organically within the community that gives it life? It could be a special group that maintains the trails or goes out into the community to volunteer. It could be the difference between a library and an active book group led by residents.

Delving into the details is critical because branding is not about assigning a personality to your client, it is about discovering the one that already exists, then helping the client to own it, live it and encourage others to become a part of it. It’s not just about a logo or a tagline. It’s a promise that a community that can make to its prospective residents that no other competitor can deliver on.

For me, as a designer by background and a creative director by trade, design and advertising are definitely part of the expression. They are the face of the brand seen in the website, the outdoor board along the highway and the sign out front. This face helps define the brand’s personality and its values. It expresses the brand in a way that is meaningful and a source of pride within the community.

But the advertising and design are only meaningful if they come from a place of truth. It’s important to dig deep into a community’s stories, identify genuine benefits that everyone can recognize as authentic, and then work consciously to expand on them to set the community apart.

The reward of finding that niche and having management, staff and residents embrace it is watching energy and excitement permeate the community as its brand comes to life.