- By Rosanna Fay
While looking to transition from my 25-year career in technology marketing to work that was more flexible and offered more personal fulfillment, I was drawn to the fledgling opportunities in the rapidly expanding aging-in-place field. You might want to investigate starting a business or working in one, too.
It’s not entirely a coincidence that this arena holds interest for me. For over a decade, I’d juggled my profession with caring for my terminally ill parents. During that time, I became acutely aware how much support older adults need — and how few readily-available services there are to provide it.
Daily tasks like driving, home management, food shopping and computer activities that younger people take for granted are often prohibitively complicated or impossible for older Americans. Little surprise that a myriad of new business ideas are emerging to help people stay in their homes in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
(MORE: Transforming Life As We Age)
A Crying Need That Will Only Grow
By some estimates, 90 percent of older adults want to remain in their homes as they age. And with another boomer turning 65 every eight seconds, the number of Americans in the aging-in-place demo will expand greatly in the coming decades. The National Association of Home Builders puts the aging-in-place remodeling market at $24 billion. That’s on top of the $30 billion dollar market (according to Semico Research) for aging-in-place tech products.
Below are a few of the niches I believe are waiting to be filled, especially by small businesses:
While aging at home is the preference of most older Americans, being housebound is not. They need to get to doctor appointments, grocery stores and stay engaged with family and friends. But many highly functioning and fully cognitive folks are unable to drive due to conditions with eyesight, mobility or even heart disease and frequently have trouble using public transportation. Some municipalities offer paratransit services and there are private limo companies with wheelchair-equipped vans. But for many people, that’s overkill. And overpriced. Often, all they really need is a ride.
Driving, patiently assisting customers in and out of cars and assembling foldaway walkers or mini-scooters are under-serviced areas where entrepreneurs can shine.
(MORE: 3 Great Jobs to Ride the 'Age Wave')
Older adults have generally been slow to adopt new technologies (77 percent own cell phones, but only 18 percent use smartphones). But a comfort level with technology can be key to realizing an aging-in-place dream. Products for tele-health and smart homes provide a largely untapped opportunity for tech-savvy entrepreneurs. Also, there’s a big need for affordable services helping technophobes and the uninitiated through the learning curves of purchase decisions, setup and ongoing use.
Often, aging-in-place means downsizing to a smaller, more manageable place and then staying there. The idea of packing up 50 years worth of stuff is daunting, however and can spook people from moving. So-called "senior move managers" who help with the delicate tasks of removal, reduction, packing, unpacking and reorganizing can make the transition smooth — and even make it happen at all.
PERSONAL ASSISTANT SERVICES
When my parents were aging in their home, my brothers and I lived thousands of miles away. After our mom passed away, we hired an outstanding personal assistant for our dad, who catered to his weekly needs from food shopping and errands to keeping his caregivers organized. After he died, the assistant helped our family pack up the house and ship treasured keepsakes to my brothers and me. Ultimately, she managed the entire estate sale process on our behalf. Countless others could also benefit from such services.
(MORE: 3 Innovative Ways to Age-in-Place)
Nearly 30 percent of elderly Americans live alone, and many, especially those with health conditions, become overwhelmed by the challenge of cooking-for-one. Possibly, the most useful thing I did for my aging father was to visit one weekend a month and “batch cook,” making four or five of his favorite dishes and packaging them into individual portions for freezing. An affordable batch-cooking or meal prep service could prove to be of a great value to many older adults.
How to Find Customers
As you can see, the growing field of aging-in-place specialists gives rise to an array of cottage industries. Not all of these types of businesses require certification and many can be done part-time — an ideal job in retirement. In the process of securing my Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist designation, I met a contingent of soon-to-be empty nesters and entrepreneurial-minded businesspeople looking for their next challenge and eyeing aging-in-place related services.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of starting an aging-in-place business, the key is to focus on networking and target marketing.
The aging and eldercare eco-system is very identifiable. Make the effort to find and know the leaders with yours in order to build relationships and referrals.
Senior community centers are a major hub for resources; introduce yourself to the staff, leave flyers and business cards and whenever possible, conduct an informational workshop with advice and knowledge about the problem your service can help address.
Hospital social workers are frequently consulted by discharging patients about such services. So ask hospital staff to add you to their resource lists. Also, private nursing agencies — particularly ones that staff occupational therapists — can be great partners, since many families rely on their recommendations when needing aging-in-place assistance. And the local chamber of commerce can be a great avenue for networking and introductions.
To market your business, local newspapers (print and online) and newsletters are powerful tools. If possible, write a guest article or blog post about your aging-in-place area of expertise. Inexpensive car magnets are a highly effective way to advertise your service; while you’re inside the senior center, your parked car outside is also working for you. And, of course, don’t forget the Internet. All businesses need websites presenting vital information about their services, with contact information. It’s imperative that your site can be found by anyone doing a Google search for your type of service in your area.
Aging-in-place niche businesses are waiting to be filled by creative, interested and entrepreneurial people who know how to leverage their unique skillsets to meet the need. While the revenue models for most of these ideas are wide-ranging and nascent, the companies still represent worthy endeavors with the potential to provide you with job independence, flexibility and a rewarding income.
After more than a decade of balancing her job as COO of the mobile and entertainment marketing firm she co-founded and supporting her elderly parents, Rosanna Fay shifted gears to address aging and eldercare issues. Combining her tech and business background with her Certified Aging In Place Specialist designation, Fay has published articles on aging-in-place in Forbes, The Atlantic and elsewhere.