Satisfying Boomers and Boomlets with Lenses

Learn to cater to the needs of these two demographic groups and you'll earn loyal, happy patients


Satisfying Boomers and Boomlets with Lenses

Learn to cater to the needs of these two demographic groups and you'll earn loyal, happy patients.

By Susan J. Gromacki, OD, MS, FAAO

Dr. Gromacki is a Diplomate in the Cornea and Contact Lens section of the American Academy of Optometry. She lives in West Point, New York.

If you had to quickly analyze what age groups make up the bulk of your practice, what would you guess? Twenty-seven percent of the U.S. population, or 77 million people, qualify as "baby boomers." This group of people was born between 1946 and 1964.

Their offspring, the "baby boomlets," "Generation Y," or the "millennium generation," were born between 1977 and 1995 and comprise 26 percent of the population. Therefore, more than half of the patients who visit your office will be either a boomer or a boomlet. And now that you have these figures in mind, it makes sense for you to pay attention to the characteristics of these two large groups.

Realizing the Differences

Noted demographer David K. Foot writes that, "The management of a business that fails to pay attention to demographics for five years may wake up to find itself in a different business than it thought it was in — or not in business at all."

This article will help you avoid this predicament by offering advice on better relating to baby boomers and their boomlets and fulfilling their unique contact lens needs.

Of course, individual personalities exist within any cohort of people, but different experiences also exist that shape each generation. Life stages also differentiate one group from another.

Understanding a generation's defining characteristics and core values can create a climate within your contact lens practice that attracts patients of all ages. Once you've attracted the patients, fitting each group with contact lenses will present different types of challenges.

Baby Boomers

The years between 1946 and 1964 were, for the most part, both prosperous and peaceful. Families had record numbers of children, and as the children grew into young adults, they comprised such a great percentage of the population that much of the marketing of the day was geared toward them. As a result of this generation's youth being heralded to such an extent, they still consider themselves young despite turning gray and presbyopic. Here are some characteristics of this demographic.

• Unlike previous generations, boomers can economically afford to be more self-absorbed, pursuing personal goals and instant gratification.

• Born into a booming post-war economy, boomers enjoyed unprecedented employment and educational opportunities.

• J. Walker Smith, author of Rocking the Ages, stated, "Boomers have always happily gone into debt to spend on the next new experience in life. They'll continue to do that."

• According to Patricia Braus, author of American Demographics, other boomer characteristics are individualism, skepticism and rejection of authority.

Business With the Boomers

So, how does your practice begin to connect with this large, diverse, yet widely defined segment of our population? First, realize that as boomers age, they'll remain entirely unlike older generations. Lumping boomers into the "mature" category simply because of their age is a perilous business decision because they may be offended and seek their care elsewhere. Remember that this was the original "youth generation" and that you must always treat them as such.

Because boomers are highly individualistic, it's important to carefully listen to them and validate their concerns and ideas. If you have to refer them to another provider who knows more than you, so be it. Boomers accept this recommendation more readily than a comment such as, "Bifocal contact lenses don't work."

This group is more technologically aware than previous generations. Years ago, patients were often surprised to hear that bifocal contact lenses even existed. Today's new presbyopes typically not only know they exist (having searched the Internet), but also expects optimal contact lens correction of their presbyopia — at all distances, for all refractive errors, in all materials. Sometimes these patient demands can outpace the available technology. There are challenges to correcting presbyopia with contact lenses. Nevertheless, the options are more numerous and provide better vision than ever before.

This group has been called "capitalism's best consumers." Offer boomers something they can't get elsewhere. They'll willingly pay for your services and remain patients for life. If you can't differentiate yourself, they'll simply shop for the best value.

From a practice management standpoint, it's important to attract boomers to your practice now. The majority of them are employed and settled down with families and less likely than Gen X or Y to move from the area. Your contact lens patient of the present is your cataract, glaucoma and low vision patient of the not-too-distant future.

Contact Lenses for Boomers

According to Mediamark Research Inc., twice as many patients ages 53 to 62 wear contact lenses as those ages 63 to 72. And for the younger baby boomers (ages 43 to 51), the numbers are even greater. Why?

Unlike the generation before them, many boomers have been wearing contact lenses for their entire adult lives. Even though their bodies and their eyes are growing older, they'll wish to continue wearing them. And lifelong emmetropes and low hyperopes who wish to retain their "youthful" appearance are also going to want contact lenses.

As boomers advance in age, you can't overlook several characteristics: reduced tear quantity and quality; smaller pupil size; flaccid eyelids; decreased corneal sensitivity; and decreased best visual acuity because of cataracts, macular degeneration or other age-related changes.

Boomers are also more likely than younger patients to use medications that may affect lens wear. Subtly educate them to these realities and their effect on contact lens wear. Some boomers simply may not be good candidates for contact lenses.

Prescreening will help you decide which contact lens is best for each boomer. The easiest way to correct presbyopic patients is to fit distance contact lenses with single vision spectacles for near. You can fit soft or GP, spherical or toric; and in addition, there's no visual compromise because of reduced stereopsis, ghost imaging or residual astigmatism. Early presbyopes still have enough accommodation to see intermediate distances, such as their computer screen. But older boomers who require higher add powers will have difficulty seeing the computer with their distance contact lenses. Some practitioners choose to initially overplus both eyes to aid near acuity, but I've never been a fan of creating distance blur in both eyes.

Monovision remains a successful (70-to-80 percent) option, but I've found increasing numbers of people who can't tolerate it, especially if they have prolonged near demands. As with single vision contact lenses, there is the dilemma of which distance to correct their near eye: 40 cm for reading a book or 50-to-60 cm for using the computer.

Aspheric, progressive multifocal contact lenses will correct for the intermediate distance. However, to enhance success, you must become familiar with the specifics of your favorite multifocal contact lenses. For example, how do the optics work and why would you choose one design, brand or material over another for a given patient? Also, there's a learning curve (which lenses work best with modified monovision?). If you can become a proficient multifocal contact lens fitter, you'll differentiate yourself from other practitioners in your area. Baby boomers like practices that specialize in their needs. Although bifocal contact lenses have advanced dramatically over the past few years, a high rate of fitting success demands access to several different designs. Bifocal and multifocal patients need realistic expectations and should be made aware that the fitting process may require multiple visits. Proper expectations help ensure success and satisfaction that will result in increased word-of-mouth referrals.

Baby Boomlets

This is a generation of consumers, now between the ages of 12 and 31, more than triple the size of Generation X. Its numbers will increase even more as immigrants join its ranks. As this age group continues to grow into adulthood, its economic and social impact will produce waves of change unlike that of any group in history — except, of course, their boomer parents. However, boomlets are growing up in different times and consequently have different views and needs.

This is the most-studied group of young adults ever. However, its economic impact is still yet to be determined because boomlets won't reach peak consumption for a decade. And because this group is still young, researchers have hesitated to make any final characterizations of them. Nevertheless, one thing's for certain — this generation is more diverse than its predecessors.

• One in three is not Caucasian.

• One in four lives in a single parent household.

• Even the youngest of the boomlets may influence family purchase decisions or have a job of their own.

• Other labels given to this generation thus far are "cynical" and "practical."

A growing body of research depicts them as socially conscious — at least by class. Harvard professor Robert Putnam wrote that volunteerism by college students has increased considerably of late, though, "the have-nots are actually more detached than ever before." An article in Fortune magazine calls them, "the most high-maintenance workforce in the history of the world… The kids — self-absorbed, gregarious, multitasking, loud, optimistic, pierced — are exactly what the boomers raised them to be." The article continues by saying that their outlook was shaken by the Columbine shootings and 9/11. "Each new clip of Al Gore spreading inconvenient truths or of polar bears drowning from lack of ice told Gen Yers they were not promised a healthy, happy tomorrow. So they're determined to live their best lives now."

Business With the Boomlets

Boomlets are the first full generation to grow up with the tools of technology and the new economy. They are the most tech-adept generation ever. They text message their friends on their cell phones, e-mail, and create videos and profiles for such Web sites as You Tube, Facebook and MySpace. Teens and young adults may be more highly educated than older generations about health care and may therefore be more likely to request special services or products. They expect perfect customer service, electronic commerce, speedy delivery, generous return policies and low prices.

"The old-style advertising that works with boomers (ads that push a slogan and an image and a feeling) isn't going to work for the younger consumers," says James R. Palczynski, retail analyst and author of YouthQuake, a study of youth consumer trends. Boomlets are too savvy, cynical and practical to fall for that. Straightforward marketing and humor will work much better. To reach them, you need a Web site and access to e-mail. Features like Vistakon's Acuminder, which remind patients via e-mail, cell phone text message and/or computer desktop cell phone text message, Facebook newsfeed, and/or computer desktop prompt to change their contact lenses or to return for appointments, are helpful.

This generation also expects, even welcomes, change. They are very independent, having already shown less devotion than older Americans to their hometowns, employers and, yes, even to their eyecare practitioners. You can't expect that they will return to you out of loyalty. You have to set your practice apart, working to make their experience positive and worthwhile.

Contact Lenses for Boomlets

It's important to assess the maturity level of a teen before deciding to fit contact lenses. Some understand the health risks associated with noncompliant contact lens care and others simply disregard them.

If the primary motivation for lens wear is the parent's desire for his child to wear contact lenses, then that could spell problems. Interestingly enough, even though teens are often characterized by the media as being rebellious or apathetic, I've found that most are quite meticulous about their contact lens care.

Nevertheless, I consider only three types of contact lenses for the youngest of the boomlets: one-day disposables, silicone hydrogel lenses and, to a lesser extent, GPs. I suggest the former to eliminate any role dirty contact lenses and/or noncompliance with lens care may play in infection. With the widespread media coverage of the Fusarium and Acanthamoeba keratitis outbreaks, this is an easier sell than it used to be. Silicone hydrogel lenses are fitted for increased oxygen permeability and easier handling than daily disposable lenses.

I never prescribe extended wear, however, to patients younger than 18. If they participate in contact sports, I recommend soft lenses. If not, I'll consider GPs. Although research has shown that wearing GP lenses does not change the eye's axial length, it may keep some corneal changes in check.

A great way to differentiate your practice, especially with teens, is to prescribe overnight orthokeratology. In the hands of an experienced practitioner, it is safe, reversible, and can eliminate a patient's need for correction during waking hours. You might also want to inform patients about preliminary research findings showing orthokeratology possibly slowing myopia progression.

For younger boomlets, you'll need to educate the parents in addition to the patient, because they are still responsible for health care purchasing decisions.

Worth the Effort

Educating yourself on the common characteristics shared by members of both the baby boomer and baby boomlet generations can have a big impact on your practice. Give them what they want, and they'll keep coming back. CLS

For references, please visit and click on document #157.