Creating Empathy for Elderly is Smart Business

With the baby boomers now rapidly joining AARP, there are 35 million adults over the age of 65 in the United States today and that number will increase to 70 million in the next 20 years. Clearly, elder care is big business. Quality of that care is a major concern, however. State of the art facilities are important, but caretakers are the ones who implement care and many need additional training to learn empathy and understanding for their patients.

It’s one thing to be sympathetic and quite another to be empathetic. When it comes to caring for the elderly, empathy is better than sympathy because it implies feeling with a person in a collaborative sense, rather than feeling sorry for a person in a more distant sense.

Organizations are rushing to train caretakers in the art of empathy and the best way to do that is to give them some experience with the feelings associated with being elderly.

Participants in the Xtreme Aging workshops at the Macklin Intergenerational Institute actually get that opportunity. Activities include those designed to create the confusion stroke victims experience and the physical limitations associated with aging. Participants perform routine tasks wearing gloves with a couple fingers taped together to simulate arthritis, coated eyeglasses to mimic visual impairment, cotton stuffed ears to copy the effects of hearing loss and kernels of corn in their shoes to imitate the pain felt as a result of the loss of fatty tissue.

Simulations are so very valuable because they help create empathy and in doing so also diminish ageism. It’s nearly impossible to really “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” but workshops like these sure come close to getting to experience another person’s reality.

Because nearly 20% of the total U.S. population is elderly, retailers and all their customer service personnel must learn to understand this very important and often ignored group. If not, retailers will alienate a very powerful consumer base.

One of the biggest mistakes customer service personnel make is treating older Americans with a lack of respect. A condescending tone and a complete lack of empathy are the chief complaints those 65 and older make when commenting on customer service failures.

The Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends conducted a survey on aging and found of those 65 and older, “fully 60% say they feel younger than their age, compared with 32% who say they feel exactly their age and just 3% who say they feel older than their age.”

While those 65 and older say they may not feel old, there are some common signs of aging most people experience. Understanding aging in addition to tailoring products and services for older consumers generates customer loyalty and therefore, increases sales.

What are the common physical changes that occur as part of the aging process? Sensory and cognitive changes are inevitable. Some discomfort or even pain in the joints, knees, hands and feet is often unavoidable. These things can make daily activities difficult, but there are many things retailers can do to make shopping easier for those 65 and older.

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