“Hey photographer! How about getting those models to face the camera?”

You’ve probably seen 1,000 versions of this stock photo—so common in the senior communications of yesteryear.

Not so long ago, the IlluminAge blog was reporting on ways the baby boomer generation was stepping up to the plate to provide care for older loved ones. Their folks had big families, with an average of seven people available to support and supervise their care needs. And that was good, because life expectancy has increased by almost 30 years since the 1900s when the boomers’ grandparents were born.

Now, the baby boomer generation—those born between 1946 and 1964—are of an age to need care themselves. And it turns out that predictions of the boomers being much healthier than their parents weren’t totally accurate. While some boomers are experiencing good health, others are facing health challenges. And with smaller families and a higher divorce rate, they will need more care support from professionals! Many boomers find themselves in both roles: providing care for elderly parents or a disabled spouse, and also needing short- or long-term care themselves. Today senior living communities might be welcoming both parent and child residents!

Health isn’t the only area in which the boomers are diverse. It can be challenging to target your message for them because they are far from a homogenous group! Many are well-off financially, but others are struggling. Some retired as soon as they could, while others intend to keep working indefinitely. Politically, they range from very conservative to progressives who never gave up the fight for social justice.

But several baby boomer traits pretty much cut across the generation. Boomers want to feel empowered. Person-centered care is the name of the game for them. In the care you provide, you no doubt caution your staff against using patronizing “elderspeak,” and encourage them to view residents and patients as individuals. But what about your marketing and other communications?

Here are some of the most common topics that come up when marketing to baby boomers:

Visuals really matter

Look at websites and blogs for senior organizations and you’re likely to see a lot of photos, like the one above, with older adults facing away from the camera—what’s up with that? Often, they are walking into the sunset or sitting on a park bench—both unfortunate metaphors. Instead, choose realistic and upbeat photos with engaged faces. As the IlluminAge content team is selecting stock photos, we might look at 100 images taken during the same photoshoot to find just the right one; if you’re using photos of your own community or organization, select ones in which older adults are smiling, interacting, doing something.

A growing awareness of ageism

Again, the boomers aren’t a unified group. Many still are buying snarky “over the hill” birthday cards for their friends and making derogatory jokes and comments about older people. But more and more, boomers who grew up in the era of civil rights and culture change find it unacceptable that people who wouldn’t make a racist or sexist comment still persist in using tired, derogatory language and stereotypes when it comes to older adults. Boomers want to talk about the challenges of aging and how to meet them—but not to be “othered.” Describe aging within a life continuum when you can—for example, rather than “many seniors have memory loss,” you might say “as we grow older, we’re more likely to face memory loss.”

The name game

“Seniors,” “senior citizens,” “older adults,” “older people,” “elderly,” elders,” “golden agers”—what do boomers older than 65 prefer to be called? We won’t pretend to know the definitive answer to that question! Some writers have suggested new terms, such as “people of age,” “65 and better,” “super adult,” “third ager” and “perennials.” Others say the neutral “people older than 65” is best (though is a centenarian truly best described that way?).

We could discuss this all day without coming up with a definitive answer because as long as ageist attitudes exist, the most affirming “rebranding” of older adults quickly takes on negative baggage. Think about it: “golden,” when not followed by “age,” is a traditional sign of excellence. In fiction, the “elders” of a tribe or an alien race get lots of respect. And consider the term “senior”—when we wear that label in high school, we’re proud. It’s nice to have it in our job title. But followed by “citizen,” not so much.

IlluminAge content creators generally take the lead from our clients when we are creating copy—if a client has a strong preference, we go with that. Left to our own devices, we usually alternate between “older adults” and “seniors.”

Bottom line, we can’t solve the big question of terminology—but rest assured that if your communications are upbeat, affirming and inclusive, that creates a sense among boomers that they’ll receive the same from you in person.