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4 ways to motivate seniors to adopt healthy behaviors


Despite the time-worn expression that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, hospitals face mounting pressure to encourage healthy behaviors among aging Baby Boomers and older seniors. In addition to the financial incentive of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) push to transition from fee-for-service to value-based care, the looming threat of primary care and specialist physician shortages makes it more important than ever to engage America’s elderly healthcare consumers more effectively.


How can hospitals improve senior care engagement?

1. Recognize that not all seniors have the same motivations and behaviors.

Too often, individuals are classified by a demographic factor like age, their payer group such as Medicare patients, or a shared diagnosis whether that is diabetes or heart disease. By looking deeper into their thoughts, behaviors and preferences using a psychographic segmentation tool like the c2b Consumer Classifier, hospitals can identify likely ways to motivate seniors more effectively. The Consumer Classifier uses 12 simple questions to break down patients into five distinct segments ranging from proactive to reactive.


  • At the most proactive end are Self-Achievers who, as the name suggests, are easily motivated when given goals and measures.
  • Balance Seekers are also proactive. However, they prefer to get health advice from a variety of sources—not just doctors. As a result, healthcare providers need to provide choices while outlining the ramifications of each option.  
  • At the opposite end of the spectrum are Willful Endurers, who live in the moment and only go to the doctor as a last resort.
  • Direction Takers are reactive too, but in contrast to Willful Endurers, Direction Takers will go to the doctor at the first sign of a health concern, but they struggle to follow medical advice.
  • Squarely in the middle are Priority Jugglers who are proactive when it comes to the health of loved ones, but reactive when it comes to their own health. Appealing to their sense of duty to family and work can incentivize Priority Jugglers to engage more in their own wellness.

The distribution of psychographic segments varies among seniors relative to the general population, with an overdeveloped representation among Self Achievers and Direction Takers.  These two segments are higher utilizers of the healthcare system, but are very different in their approaches to health and wellness. These differing motivations and priorities should influence patient engagement and messaging.


Even after identifying psychographic segments, healthcare providers need to adapt their approach to address the specific concerns of elderly patients. In a Psychology Today blog post, author and interpersonal effectiveness expert Preston Ni offers suggestions for improving senior care.


2. Set a limited number of manageable goals.

Goal-setting can be beneficial for older adults who struggle with less sense of purpose in their post-retirement years. While this method will be most effective with Self-Achievers, establishing only a small number of goals can make it easier for a patient who wants to follow the doctor’s advice, such as Direction Takers. By helping seniors to set realistic, incremental goals, healthcare providers help ensure patients stay on track. 


3. Build a rapport by listening.boomer_healthcare.jpg

Elderly patients have stories to tell—and when healthcare providers take the time to listen, not only do they boost patients’ sense of emotional security, but they establish a more trusting relationship.   


4. Encourage use of technology.

Older Americans aren’t as resistant to technology as in the past. While they may need some education on using new technology—something senior centers offer regularly these days—59 percent of elderly healthcare consumers go online and a study found that 66 percent of tech-savvy seniors are interested in self-care health information technology.  

Once healthcare providers understand the varying attitudes and expectations of patients—including elderly healthcare consumers—hospitals can develop highly-relevant wellness programs or motivate compliance with chronic disease management plans. And with approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 years old every day, increasing the effectiveness of engagement among aging patients will continue to be critical during this decade.

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change


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