Consultants Help Elderly Downsize at Home

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Many elderly people eventually decide to leave their homes, looking for a smaller place, a retirement community or a nursing home. Moving can be exhausting. But there are now moving consultants who help the elderly organize and downsize their lives.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now the new Congress will face one issue that's exactly the same as a challenge facing the old Congress, and that's how to take care of the aging U.S. population. That population is creating a new type of job, many new types of jobs, actually, including senior move specialist.

At some point, many elderly people find themselves ready to move to a nursing home or retirement community. And that's where the senior moves specialist comes in, helping older Americans plan the moving and making sure it goes smoothly. Here's NPR's Jim Zarroli.

Ms. JANE PECKINGHAM(ph) (Senior Move Specialist): We have to make a decision about blankets.

Ms. MARY JANE PELTZ(ph) (Getting Help from Specialist): Well, what else do we have? Don't forget winter's coming.

Ms. PECKINGHAM: Exactly...

JIM ZARROLI: Jane Peckingham stands in front of a walk-in closet in the master bedroom of a big sunlit house in the New York's Westchester County. The home's owner, 81-year-old Mary Jane Peltz is about to move, and Peckingham is helping her decide what to take.

Ms. PECKINGHAM: These items were your, you know, bathing suits and summer things...

Ms. PELTZ: My bathing suits out there. It's 50 degrees.

Ms. PECKINGHAM: Okay. But do you anticipate wanting them at some point?

ZARROLI: Both Mary Jane and her husband Robert have early stage Alzheimer's Disease. Their children, who live too far away to care for them, have insisted they move into a retirement community. To help with the move, they hired Peckingham, a senior move specialist.

There are about 250 of them in the country, most of them women. They even have their own trade group. That group's founder, Margit Novack, says moving is a huge physical task for everyone.

Ms. MARGIT NOVACK (Founder, National Association of Senior Move Managers): For the typical older adult that's moving, almost everything in their life has to be examined to say, will this go with me? because most people are downsizing considerably. And think about going to your home and making a decision for everything you own. Is it a go, or no go?

ZARROLI: Senior move specialists help elderly people go through a lifetime's worth of possessions and decide what to keep. Often they hire the movers and even arrange garage sales for all the things that are left behind. They charge anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 for the job. Novack says the process can be emotionally draining, especially when the person has lived in the house a long time.

Ms. NOVACK: We've had a client say to us once, you know, my wife died three years ago and I thought I was done mourning. But moving out of the house that we lived in together feels like losing her all over again.

ZARROLI: Novack says older people are often reluctant to part with a lot of their things. She remembers one retired lawyer who had once taught yoga and wouldn't get rid of her large collection of mats. More often, people try to pass on their possessions to their grown kids but the kids lack room for them, so things have to be given away or sold.

That's what happened at the Peltz's house in Westchester County. The couple are moving from their big house into a one-bedroom apartment so they have to get rid of almost everything they own. As she watches the packing, Mary Jane Peltz worries that it won't be finished on time.

Ms. PELTZ: We've been here for 19 or 18 years. So, you know, we're going to the - I can't even tell you the name of it cause I don't really want to go. So, you know, there are lots of things here that we really love and it's very hard to know what should we take, what shouldn't we take. And I can't believe when you look at this place that it's all going to be ready on time.

ZARROLI: All around the house, Jane Peckingham has placed little green dots on the furniture that the couple is taking. Peckingham likes to let her clients decide what they're keeping. It makes them feel better to have control over the process.

So the Peltzes have been putting the items they're keeping onto the dining room table - some playing cards, a photo album and Mary Jane's CDs. As Peckingham packs them, she peels off her sweater. Her elderly clients tend to keep their houses too warm so she dresses in layers when she works.

Peckingham got into this business after helping her own elderly mother move. The job isn't for everyone, she says.

Ms. PECKINGHAM: I broke my ankle last winter and my sister-in-law took my business over for me. I mean, she was really, really great but she got very depressed. She felt that it was very sad. I never get sad. I always feel really glad that I can sort of step in. Because I'm able to provide help that they need and that makes me feel really good.

ZARROLI: Peckingham says being a senior move specialist isn't rocket science. It's more like project management, overseeing the many detailed tasks that a move entails. She also knows it's a job with a future. Many elderly people live far from their children or other relatives and there may be no one nearby to help them move.

With the U.S. population aging, the ranks of senior move specialist can only grow.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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