October 2, 2005

Prospecting in the Silver Age

From sewing to moving to paying bills, elderly are getting help, for a price, from new businesses.

By Lini S. Kadaba and Rita Giordano
Inquirer Staff Writers


In 1967, Dustin Hoffman was 29 when, in The Graduate, a businessman gave him one word to think about: plastics.

Today Hoffman is 68, and there's a new buzz: silver industries.

"The industry of the future is aging. That's where the money will be made," said Harry Moody, director of academic affairs at AARP.

After all, he added, every day, about 10,000 baby boomers are turning 59 - scads of potential customers.

A number of industries, including travel companies and condo developers, have long tried to appeal to active older Americans. Pharmaceutical companies have made a fortune with drugs for arthritis and impotence. And products adapted for aging consumers - easier-to-read dashboards, for one - are arriving faster than you can say bifocals.

Now a multitude of entrepreneurs are emerging who see a niche in the "aging in place" market.

More and more retirees are seeking to continue living independently in their homes, and new businesses are helping make that possible.

Now we have tailors for retirees who cannot manage mending anymore, geriatric-care managers to oversee a parent's care when their children live far away, health advocates who help explain what your doctor says, elder-law attorneys, daily money managers, and so on.

"We're talking about 30, 40 years of a very large market of older and old people," said Neal E. Cutler, who holds a chair at Widener University in one such new field of study - financial gerontology, which looks at the links between aging and finance.

"The success of the silver industries is quite bright," Cutler said. "There are lots of new services and products evolving."  

Senior move managers. What to take? What to leave?

These were the difficult questions that Valencia Peterson of Moving Solutions was helping a 65-year-old client decide, as they sorted through a Newtown Square pantry stocked with rivers of aluminum foil, bins of sugar, and dozens of cake mixes, all bought on sale.

Dorothy Kupferschmidt, a single woman with arthritic knees, was downsizing from a rancher to a continuing-care apartment with the help of Peterson, a packer for a "senior move manager."

Moving Solutions, based in Havertown, was launched nine years ago. It has grown to 30 employees and $500,000 in revenue in the region.

"People think it's about a carton. It's about a body of knowledge specific to older adults," said Margit Novack, president of the firm, which charges $1,500 to $3,500 for sorting and packing.

She also heads the National Association of Senior Move Managers, which she formed in 2002 with 16 members and now has more than 60.

Seamstress for seniors. Every Thursday, seamstress Debbie Hackman, 46, of Marlton, Burlington County, makes the rounds of retirement and assisted-living communities, eager to sew up the growing market of residents who need hems shortened or elastic bands replaced.

She launched her dining-room-based business, Sincerely Yours, in 1996, making to order everything from wedding dresses to window treatments.

Then, a year ago, she joined the Voorhees Business Association, where she met the manager of a retirement complex who invited her to help residents with their sewing needs.

"Most of the people don't desire to have to figure it out for themselves anymore," Hackman said. "Some of them can't see so well. Some of them don't get around so well anymore."

Since then, she has branched out to other retirement communities. "I would say 50 to 70 percent of my business is coming from seniors," Hackman said.

Senior real estate specialist. Voorhees Realtor Sandi Lichtman, 54, has sold property for 22 years. Two years ago, she took a two-day course and became a senior real estate specialist - trained in tax laws, estate planning, reverse mortgages, and other issues that can help older buyers and sellers.

It is a booming designation, according to Jennifer Dodge, an administrator at the California-based Senior Advantage Real Estate Council, which certifies senior specialists. The group's rolls have swelled from 5,000 in 2002 to 12,500 members this year, and Dodge said she expected even more growth as the population aged.

"They're better able to help the individual because they're armed with the information a senior needs," she said.

Daily money manager. As a daily money manager, Linda Newsum, founder of the two-year-old Personal Cash Services in Ambler, manages the checkbook and sorts the mail, among other things, for people who no longer can.

"My mother became rather ill, seriously off and on, and I started helping her out," Newsum, 48, said. "It's very hard for folks, when they need that little bit of help, to find it."

Less so nowadays. In the last decade, the American Association of Daily Money Managers in Woodbridge, Va., has grown from six businesses to more than 400, adding one-fourth of its members in the last two years.

On a recent morning, Newsum made her monthly visit to Mima Gallivan, 88, at her St. Davids apartment, one of a dozen clients who pay about $100 a month for Newsum's help.

"I can't drive or read," said Gallivan, a widow who has macular degeneration, a disease that has robbed her of all but peripheral vision. "I'm afraid to do anything. I might throw out something important."

So Newsum sorts bills, writes checks, argues over insurance claims, jots engagements on an over-size calendar.

"It's just been a lifesaver," said Gallivan, who, like many of Newsum's clients, has children who live states away - too far to help.


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