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4 ways to market to older adults

May 08, 2017

There’s a need in the treatment community for programs that address the unique attributes of baby boomers and older adults, but treatment centers will need new strategies to effectively attract and satisfy this population.

According to a 2016 report from the Administration on Aging, the number of older adults in this country continues to grow. The population of adults over the age of 65 has grown from 36.6 million in 2005 to 47.8 million in 2015. That figure is expected to more than double, reaching 98 million by 2060.

This growing population isn’t immune to substance use disorders (SUD) of course. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2013 found that SUDs on the rise in people who are in their 50s and 60s. For instance, according to the report, the percentage of individuals age 60 to 64 using illicit drugs each month rose from 2.6% in 2010 to 3.9% in 2013.

 In addition, a 2012 study from Lyle Cooper reported that more than 2.5 million older Americans struggle with alcohol misuse.  While these patients often present with the same disorders of their younger peers, older adults have a unique set of physiological, social and emotional needs that distinguish this population clinically and call for customized services.

Experts agree that by adopting marketing and program design strategies that specifically speak to baby boomers and older adults, treatment centers can reach more patients in need and gain more referrals.

Key strategies include:

1. Create separate programming and include that message in your marketing materials

According to John Dyben, DHSc, MCAP, CMHP, the clinical director at the Hanley Center at Origins, the best way to market to older adults is to have programming that is separate for this population.

“Right now, there are about five places in the country that have residential programs for older adults and there’s roughly 5 million older adults that need some form of treatment,” Dyben says.

Experts say older adults are less likely to see the appeal of programs that include a wide-range of ages and are less likely to open up during treatment.

At the Hanley Center at Origins, clinical leaders created two distinct tracks to treat older adults. The first, known as Boomer Recovery, is designed to treat the younger baby boomers who may still have active lives and careers yet could be struggling with issues such as divorce, professional identity crises, problems in their relationships or issues with their own identity. The Older Adult Recovery program focuses on those age 65 or older who may be experiencing more physical or cognitive limitations, as well as dealing with grief and loss of loved ones.

Once a separate program is created, it needs to be a central aspect of all marketing messages.

“One of the greatest pieces of marketing is just telling them that they are going to be with like-minded individuals, and they are not going to have to sit in a group room with an 18-year-old. That in it of itself, we have found to be a tremendous tool for marketing,” says Ben Brafman, LMHC, CAP, chief executive officer of Destination Hope, Inc. based in Florida.

Dyben recommends working with geriatricians and other medical professionals to help the practitioners identify signs of substance abuse in older patients or taking part in community outreach events where older adults may attend.

2. Consider the bio-psycho-social-spiritual needs of the population

Whether an older adult is seeking treatment for themselves or a caregiver is researching treatment options for a loved one, potential patients will want to know that their unique needs will be met.

Experts say treatment centers not only need separate programming for older patients, but that the programming also needs to address the unique biological, psychological, social and spiritual needs of this population.

“The first thing would be to understand your audience, what do they care about and what are their concerns and their experiences within the category and then deliver a product and a service that meets or exceeds those expectations,” says Debra Retoff, chief marketing officer for Enterhealth.

For instance, older adults who are seeking treatment are often facing more severe social consequences than their younger peers.

 “At that point, if they are still in the grips of an addiction, we’re talking about losing their job, which is probably their career, their wife is leaving them or has already left them, children are not speaking to them, and legal issues happen that have probably been around for a little while,” Brafman says.

Many may also have separate medical needs that will need to be addressed. According to the Administration on Aging, most older adults have at least one chronic medical condition and many are diagnosed with more. The most common of these in 2015 for people 75 or older were arthritis, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Providing a medical component to programming is an important aspect of Enterhealth's residential ranch facility in Texas. According to Scott Trout, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Enterhealth, the facility has on-site doctors, nurses, physical therapists, personal trainers and neuropsychologists, who work with patients to treat all aspects of their physical and mental health.

“With the older patient there’s also many medical conditions that may come along with a detox,” Trout says.

Letting patients, and their families, know that these type of specific programs are in place is an important aspect of marketing.

 “You've got to convey that this is a different program,” Brafman says.

3. Find the most effective marketing opportunities

 Successful marketing can't be achieved if targeted messages don’t reach their intended audience.

Treatment centers need to consider where their target audience regularly gets their information to determine which avenues will be most successful for this patient group.

Old stereotypes that older adults don't use the internet or technology, no longer hold true. According to the Pew Research Center, the percent of adults age 65 or older who use the internet has grown from 14% in 2000 to 64% in 2016.

Many have also embraced social media. Separate Pew Research Center data shows that 63% of adults who are online and 65 or older used Facebook in 2016, up from 48% in 2015. Other means of social media, such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest, have a smaller percentage of older users, and may be less effective strategies to reach this group.

In addition to targeted online ads or incorporating key marketing messages into a facilities website, Dyben says treatment centers can also increase the awareness of their services by reaching out to geriatricians and other medical professionals in the community.

Research has found that older adults tend to trust the opinions and advice from medical professionals. Participating in community events may be another avenue to reach older adults or their families.

“We reach a lot of our patients through public relations and community education events,” Retoff says.

She says the organization often participates in education opportunities that focus on the patient, family, community or physicians to help attendees learn how to recognize addiction, treat addiction in the early stages as well as when to seek a higher level of care.

4. Create alumni programs

One effective strategy to giving former patients an opportunity to engage with their own peers and stayed focused on healthy living is creating alumni programs, where former patients have an opportunity to regularly meet up and support one another.

Brafman says the alumni program at Destination Hope has not only helped the facility achieve good outcomes, but it also acts as an effective marketing tool for other older adults who are able to see the success some of their peers ultimately are able to enjoy.

“Our alumni program becomes very critical to the success of the baby boomers,” Brafman says.

Creating satisfied customers and their families can be a powerful tool to foster positive word-of-mouth and  spread awareness about a facility and its services.

 Jill Sederstrom is a freelance write based in Kansas.

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