The Wisdom Years: Engaging Older Adults

Engaging older Canadians in your projects is only going to increase in importance as our population ages.  Of course, not everyone who is 65 and older should be engaged in the exact same way, but here are a few ideas to keep in mind when planning how to engage older adults, both through traditional and digital approaches.  

No matter who you’re engaging with, it needs to be done in a way that’s meaningful. In this case, think about what’s important to older adults and what aspects of your project they can provide meaningful input on. When deciding on tactics, always think about the unique features of your community, what you know about them already, and lessons learned in previous projects to inform your approach. This is your best chance at success.  

A few ideas: 

  • Go digital: No stakeholder group is one-size-fits-all. Older adults are a large age range, and while some prefer traditional and in-person engagement, a great many do use social media platforms. You can do direct engagement on Facebook through mediums like polls or the comments function, and you can also undertake age-based ad targeting to push information about your project to users 65+. It’s also important to remember that when it comes to older adults, you can reach them on social media through their family members. For example, Facebook ads targeted at Gen X users can be a great way to encourage them to talk to the older adults in their lives about your project!  
  • Get to know local organizations that support older adults: Proxy engagement is a good way to reach an audience that may otherwise be hard to hear from. Organizations that represent the interests of those you’re trying to engage are your best friend! Reach out to see if they’d be interested in hosting you at a meeting to share information about your project with their network. For example, consider organizations like local retirement homes, seniors centres, libraries, and community groups. 
  • Recruit a panel: Studies have shown that longer term engagement can be successfully conducted by recruiting a panel of older adults by using primary care physicians as a conduit for reaching strong candidates.  A panel is a great way to build a longer-term engagement process around a reliable set of participants who are eager to provide feedback. Studies have also shown that this is also an effective way to ensure the process is inclusive of race and socioeconomic status. 
  • Public opinion polling: A great way to gather input and engage folks on a platform that isn’t in-person or online. It also helps ensure that different parts of your community – often those whose perspectives may get lost in classic broad-based engagement tactics – get brought out. All you need is a phone number. Opinion polling can use real people to ask questions over the phone, which is great for older adults who tend to prefer to talk to a real-life person. 

A quick note: we’re defining “older adults” using Statistics Canada’s definition as people aged 65 years and older.  

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