When Dave Feldman and his two siblings sat down with their aging parents to have, as he described it, “the life decisions kind of conversation all families need to have,” the question was raised: Should they remain in their home?
Mr. Feldman’s parents, Lawrence, now 89, and Enid, 85, are retired schoolteachers. At the time of the conversation two years ago, they had been living in a two-bedroom apartment in Long Beach, N.Y., for nearly 15 years. The elder Mr. Feldman was becoming reliant on a motorized scooter.
“Mom said it might be nice if they could be somewhere where they could accommodate Dad,” his son said. “He said, ‘No, I want to stay home.’ ”
In the parlance of elder care, the Feldmans were choosing to “age in place.” For them to do so, the family realized after subsequent discussions, modifications would have to be made to their cramped, cluttered apartment. They turned to a senior mover — someone skilled at helping older adults downsize to smooth the transition to a smaller home or a senior living facility, or, in this case, to stay put.
Studies by AARP and others consistently show that a significant majority of older adults want to remain in their homes as long as possible. On balance, public health and elder care professionals say that is a positive trend.
“Independence has become the gold standard for successful aging,” said Kali Thomas, an aging-in-place specialist and assistant professor at Brown University’s School of Public Health. “It’s a worthy goal to choose.”
But she cautions, it is not one easily achieved. Many older people have health problems or economic issues that force them to remain at homes where the responsibilities for maintenance can be overwhelming — a situation that, she said, has been called “stuck in place.”
Recognizing this trend, the National Association of Senior Move Managers has begun the program N.A.S.M.M. at Home, designed to better educate its about 900 members on how to use their skills and expand their resources to help clients who want to age in place. “There are safety, ethical, legal issues involved,” said Jennifer Pickett, associate executive director of the organization. “It goes beyond being able to help somebody sort through their possessions.”
The help that Mr. Feldman found for his parents was Debbie Ginsberg, a senior mover who is working more and more with clients who would prefer not to move anywhere, thank you. Ms. Ginsberg, whose West Hempstead, N.Y.,-based business is called Uncluttered Domain, said she offered those who wish to age in place “a melding of services.”
“What I do is go into the home and help on the nonmedical side,” she said. “I assess what’s going on.”
At the Feldmans’ apartment, she said, “The first thing I saw was that Mr. Feldman had no clear path to get around. I saw there were markings on the wall where the scooter would bang into it.” Mail had piled up on the dining room table, and there were concerns that bills were not being paid. And even though Mrs. Feldman’s mobility was good, she had to step over piles of newspapers to squeeze into a chair. Ms. Ginsberg duly noted and recorded it all, telling Dave Feldman, “We’ve got to fix this.’”
Karen Barlow, an aging-in-place specialist in San Antonio, had the same critical eye during her initial visit to a client’s abode. “We assess the home, starting from the entrance,” Ms. Barlow said. “If there are several stairs or a transition, a person who’s on a walker is not going to be able to get over that. We can level out the entrance.”
Inside, she said, “I’m looking at their furniture. The stuff they’ve had the last 20 years might not accommodate them now. So maybe they get new chairs that have a firmer cushion so they don’t just sink in, making it harder to get up.” Throw rugs can be slipped on, so Ms. Barlow usually recommends removing them, and grab bars are often added in the bathroom.
Ms. Barlow generally charges $300 for such an assessment, which she said typically takes two hours, and then bills her clients at about $45 an hour to manage the project.
Ms. Ginsberg, who typically charges $100 an hour, said that despite some of the problems she had observed, the Feldmans’ apartment was far better than some situations she had seen in her five years in the business.
In one case, she said, a client was huddled in a coat on a mild day, sitting next to space heaters, with wires crisscrossing the floor. “She told me she had a boiler problem five years ago and had never turned it back on,” Ms. Ginsberg said. “She said she hadn’t even been down in the basement since then.”
In cases like that, Ms. Ginsberg calls in professionals and may also help connect the client, or their adult children, with elder care lawyers, social workers or health agencies, if needed. “I have a very big Rolodex,” she joked.
Many modifications Ms. Ginsberg made for the Feldmans were done without using her network. To help the senior Mr. Feldman get from the living room to the kitchen and dining room, she simply turned the dining room table from a lengthwise to a widthwise position, opening space between the rooms that had been partly blocked.
To allow him easier access to the master bedroom, she moved the clothes that had been hanging on a hook on the opposite side of the door, allowing it to swing open fully. She got rid of the couple’s old television, which was on a rolling table, and mounted a flat-screen model on the wall, clearing more space.
Ms. Ginsberg also created a system for sorting and prioritizing the Feldmans’ mail: one folder for bills that needed be paid now, a separate folder for statements, a third for charity solicitations and so forth. While going through the mail, she found checks. “Thank goodness for her,” said Dave Feldman. “This was money that could have been lost.”
By making simple changes that did not require a contractor, she greatly improved his parents’ quality of life, he said.
“Dad can now go freely from the living room to the dining room, through the kitchen, into the bedrooms and back into the living room,” Mr. Feldman said. “Now, because he has space to wheel himself into the dining room, he can sit at the table and read, which he loves to do. That’s huge.”
Source: John Hanc, Retirement, SPECIAL SECTION, The New York Times, “Movers Who Help Their Customers Stay at Home,” March 4, 2016