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How Memory Care Operators Market Their Services in a New Digital Age

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By: Sloane Airey

Memory care providers are looking at new – and old – ways to market their services to prospective residents. Doing so is perhaps harder than ever before.

Residents and their families are doing their research online more than before the pandemic. But that can be a double-edged sword.

A recent series of Washington Post investigations that centered on resident elopements found that 2,000 older adults have wandered away from senior living communities since 2018, with nearly 100 of them dying as a result of those incidents. The coverage shone a spotlight on the challenges of memory care, especially as the industry faces continued staffing shortage, and it has since prompted a Senate review.

For the experts who recently spoke to Memory Care Business the conversation has been ongoing for years, and only made more complicated by the challenges of marketing in the current digital landscape.

‘Communities need to be transparent with families’

Christina Green, VP of Operations & Community Engagement at Inspirations Assisted Living and Memory Care, recently told Memory Care Business that she hasn’t had received questions from families about the Post’s stories, but that discussing elopements in general is a part of the industry’s responsibility to educate people about how dementia works.

“Understanding the person’s reason for wandering is essential to providing care in any setting,” she said. “Even with safety checks, elopement drills, secure communities, alarmed doors, and offering activity programs a person living with dementia may wander, exit seek, or actively try to go home.”

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Likewise, Nicole Bartecki, Anthem Memory Care’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, told Memory Care Business that “not many” families have asked Anthem about elopements following the recent news coverage. For Anthem, Bartecki said, there is always a continued focus on resident safety, but that it’s up to the industry to share this work with families inquiring about care options for their loved ones.

“Communities need to be transparent with families and explain all the ways that we keep our residents safe and secure but we can not ever guarantee that a resident will not elope,” she explained.

Residents with dementia sometimes wander, and Green noted that elopements can happen whether someone lives at home or in a care facility like Inspirations’ Maryland locations. So,elopements should be part of the broader discussions with families about choosing to keep a loved one at home or transition them to a care facility, she said.

“This is a difficult decision, and it is ok to ask for help,” she said. “I ask them to tell me about their loved one and what would bring them purpose and joy? What challenges are they experiencing?

‘Consumers are not always able to get accurate information’

Of course, all of this information sharing about dementia and assisted living or memory care facilities is only as good as what reaches families. As the internet evolves and potentially becomes a bigger challenge for marketers. p marketing experts will need to get creative to both stand out to prospects and educate them on memory care.

Even marketing mainstays like Google searches are becoming inundated with spam – and increasingly, AI content – that useful information is too buried for users to find.

“Our biggest challenge with digital marketing is internet searches that directly lead to ‘A Place for Mom’ and other third-party sites,” explained Green.

This is a pattern shared across other search engines such as Bing and DuckDuckGo, too, according to recent research.

“Consumers are not always able to get accurate information, or are referred to places that are not always appropriate,” Green said. “Many times, the person or website referring the prospective family has not visited the community.”

Ultimately, she says this makes word of mouth recommendations king in the digital age.

The challenges of marketing in this landscape is forcing marketing experts to get creative if they want to keep reaching families. For example, Anthem continues to invest in paid searches on engines like Google like most memory care providers. But Bartecki says the Oregon-based memory care provider has also recently partnered with marketing company DashMedia to create short marketing videos made for social media.

“These 20 to 30 second snippets of video tell the story of our residents, lives, our residents provide advice, and tell their journey through dementia,” she said. “Family members provide helpful tips for someone just starting out in the journey to making that placement decision.

Green also highlighted a new way states and localities can help industry experts educate and reach families about elopements. In Montgomery County, Maryland, police created a unit specialized in interactions with residents who are autistic, developmentally disabled, or have dementia and aims to create a “culture of awareness” around these conditions. Among their public resources are flier templates that can be filled in and passed out to alert neighbors of a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s who eloped, and what to do if the person is found alone and away from home.

Ultimately, Bartecki noted that, “the best type of “marketing” that we can continue to do is being a resource to the community.”

“Provide education on the disease process, how to navigate the healthcare system and what to expect during the dementia journey,” she said. “The innovation comes from how we get that message across.”

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