Social Settings Key to Senior Housing Retention Rates

Creating opportunity for social interaction in senior living communities increases a senior living community’s chance of attracting and retaining residents, a new study finds. 

Nine percent of those aged 50 to 84 relocated in general in a two year period, says Dr. Erin Smith, citing her recent research that is based upon the Health and Retirement Study. The national study has been tracking seniors’ habits and opinions over time since 1992. Those 9% could have come from and moved anywhere, such as from their own home, a senior living residence or somewhere else.

“I found when people have lower levels of neighborhood social cohesion they’re much more likely to relocate,” Smith, senior research analyst at senior marketing agency Zillner, says. “A huge focus in the industry is for aging in place, but this statistic point shows people are looking for other options.”


Typically seniors who relocate are white, wealthy, educated, younger and healthier than the average older adult, Smith says, adding that evaluating neighborhood social cohesion as a motiving factor for relocation is a new tool gleaned from her research.

While people tend to move into senior living communities within five to 10 miles of their home, that doesn’t mean people are familiar with one another, Smith says.

Putting tables in common areas is an easy way to increase socialization among residents, she says, such as in TV rooms and by mailboxes.


“In one community they put mail boxes in groups of 20 and 30 inside their pavilion and put picnic tables there,” she says. “People would read their mail at the picnic table. It encouraged people to interact with each other.”

And while creating a strong sense of community is key to retain residents, it can enhance a provider’s marketability as well, says Patti Aspenleiter, president of Zillner.

“The photography we use with senior living communities show those social spaces with people interacting — positive messages are big,” Aspenleiter says about creating marketing materials for a senior residence. “You want the [prospective resident] to picture themselves sitting there at that cafe, around the table with other seniors. You want them to think, ‘Yes, that’s what I’m missing.’”

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It’s also important to highlight social engagement opportunities when meeting with prospective residents, she says.

“Schedule tours at a time when residents are in those spaces, you don’t want to offer a tour an no one is in the space,” she says, adding that after lunch is usually a bad time because most seniors are in their rooms, taking a nap or relaxing. 

Written by Cassandra Dowell

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