Private: In the Aging Biz: Entrepreneurs in their 20s, 30s

The age 50+ business is alive, well and thriving–and from unlikely quarters. It turns out many of those in aging in place technology designing for boomers and seniors are young whippersnappers in their 20s and 30s!

In a piece I wrote for Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, I interviewed a now 32 year-old. At the age of 28, he created a special credit card that protects seniors from scams and unscrupulous marketers. It was his fourth start-up! 

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 To read more about these whiz “kids,” take a look: 

Young Entrepreneurs Fill Need in Senior Market

Start-ups focused on baby boomers and seniors strive to help keep an aging population independent and connected.

At age 32, Sherwin Sheik watched his sister, who has multiple sclerosis, search unsuccessfully for good, affordable help through home care agencies. His mother ended up leaving her job as a molecular biologist in Los Gatos, Cal., to care for her. And he knew his beloved uncle, with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS, had repeatedly hired agency caregivers who didn’t show up.

 Four years ago, Sheik founded the online company CareLinx, which matches families and paid caregivers. By eliminating agency fees, families save an average of $10,000 to $15,000 a year, and caregivers earn more. “Traditional agencies were charging families $25 to $30 an hour while paying caregivers $10 an hour” says Sheik, a former investment banker. Caregivers “weren’t being compensated for the hard work they did.”

Today, Sheik’s grandparents, ages 97 and 93, get daily help from caregivers hired through CareLinx. “I am delighted and proud that Sherwin is devoting himself to helping people who are at a very vulnerable stage of their lives,” says his mother, Shahla Sheik, 67.Sheik, now 37, is among a growing number of entrepreneurs in their twenties, thirties and early forties who are developing products and services for seniors. For many, the idea evolves from a personal experience with a parent, grandparent or sibling.

As astute business people, these young entrepreneurs also realize that a swelling-by-the-day older demographic will need their products to stay independent and connected. “Students from the top business schools are setting up companies in this space — something I haven’t seen before,” says Stephen Johnston, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Aging 2.0. His company mentors start-ups that focus on baby boomers and seniors.

Mary Furlong, author of Turning Silver Into Gold (FT Press, $25), agrees. “The intellectual talent and business experience of young entrepreneurs migrating into the longevity marketplace is astounding,” says Furlong, president and chief executive officer of Mary Furlong & Associates, a company in Lafayette, Cal., that advises clients in the 50-plus market.

Here’s a look at senior-focused companies that have young adults at the helm.

Caregiving. As boomers age, so will their caregiving needs. A growing number of seniors do not have children to take on caregiving tasks, and those who do tend to have fewer kids than in the past. 

Sheik’s CareLinx (www.carelinx.com) gives each family an adviser to shepherd it through the hiring process and for follow-up. The firm vets caregivers, does background checks, manages the payroll and taxes, and insures and bonds the caregiver up to $1 million.

As with CareLinx, Making Care Easier (www.makingcareeasier.com), a free Web site and app, was born out of a personal crisis. At age 35, Harvard Business School graduate Renee Fry was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her mother temporarily moved across the U.S. to care for her. Three years later, the tumor grew back. This time, Julie, Renee’s younger sister, moved to Boston to take on caregiving. Julie had expertise in elder services as marketing director of a large association of home care and hospice providers.

Then the light bulb went off for the siblings, who both hold business degrees. Friends and family were willing to help, but they needed to know how. What was missing was a way to coordinate care, share information and find caregiving products, such as walkers. Making Care Easier, which was launched in April 2014, has 68,000 users. “It’s not enough to offer a way to coordinate care, but to connect you to products and services that matter to you,” says Fry.

After you fill out a brief online survey to determine your needs, the company sets up a secure family “dashboard.” You can send requests for help to friends and family members and share comments, medical information and expenses. Your private site provides checklists and joint calendars.

Finances. Kai Stinchcombe’s grandmother had always contributed to one cause or another. As her memory started to decline, though, she lost track of how much she was giving away. Stinchcombe watched the toll those bogus expenses took on his own mother.

His 93-year-old grandmother, who lives independently in Indiana, went from doling out $50 a month to $40 a day. She once wired $2,000 to a stranger who called and claimed to be “needy,” and she spent an unnecessary $6,000 on hearing aids. “She is very polite and won’t hang up the phone when someone calls,” says Stinchcombe, 32. His family didn’t want to humiliate her by taking away her bank account or credit card.

So in 2011, along with business partner Claire McDonnell, also then age 28, Stinchcombe conceived of TrueLink (www.truelinkfinancial.com). It is his fourth entrepreneurial venture.

TrueLink is a special Visa card that protects older people from scams and unscrupulous marketers. It recognizes patterns of transactions that other credit cards would permit and blocks them. Such questionable transactions include magazine subscription companies, sweepstakes and misleading deals on TV. “We weren’t looking for something in the aging market — we kind of stumbled into it,” Stinchcombe says. “We wanted to solve a problem. But we had to find out if enough people have the problem so we could build a business around it, raise venture capital and hire staff.” The answer was “yes.” Two-thirds of customers are daughters getting TrueLink for a parent.

End-of-life planning. In 2010, at age 30, Abby Schneiderman decided to create a Web site that provided articles on end-of-life planning. She noticed information sites for brides-to-be, house hunters, expectant parents, baby boomers sending kids to college, and retirees or those planning for retirement. “There was no reason this life stage didn’t deserve the same treatment,” she says. She and co-founder Adam Seifer created Everplans (www.everplans.com), which offered more than 500 articles on topics such as writing a will and appropriate attire for a funeral.

A year after starting Everplans, Schneiderman’s brother died in a car accident. “We had no access to the right paperwork and no idea what my brother would have wanted,” she says. “My family was left to make a huge number of complicated, expensive and stressful decisions at a time when we shouldn’t have had to.”

Schneiderman says she and Seifer realized that they “could create something more powerful and go beyond content to help people get a plan in place ahead of time.” They turned Everplans into a platform where people can create, store and share all the important information that their families need in one place — such as a will, advanced directives, medical records, insurance and names of advisers.

The free version provides access to certain areas of the site. For $75 a year, you can store a wider array of documents.

Communicating. The inspiration for Andreas Forsland’s company came after he spent weeks by his mother’s bedside in intensive care during the summer of 2012. She was unable to speak as a result of a breathing tube and ventilator, and she could not write, either.

Forsland says he wondered whether he could put sensors into an elegant stone she could hold or wear as a necklace or a bracelet. A swipe upward or a tap on the stone could indicate whatever preprogrammed message he chose — “I’m hungry” or “Everything is okay.” And a downward swipe or two taps might be “I miss you” or “I have to go to the bathroom.”

In 2013, Forsland, 40, who lives in Santa Barbara, Cal., co-founded Smartstones (www.smartstones.co). “We help people who are locked in,” he says. “They’re capable but can’t express themselves.” The product’s original intent was for seniors who had a stroke or a neurological disease such as ALS, but he is also finding interest from parents of children with autism.

Forsland’s mother, Sarah, 73, recovered, but she wears the prototype, a stone necklace, and uses it to “speak” daily with her son. The stones use a wireless Internet connection. “It’s beautiful and looks like jewelry,” she says. “I keep in touch with my son with a gentle swipe or tap, asking ‘Are you there?’ ” When Forsland was recently in Asia, he stayed in touch daily with his mother through their stones. Sarah says it “lowers my level of anxiety knowing I have the stone and can be in touch with Andreas without a cellphone.”

When the product comes out later this year — you can preorder on the site — you can buy a two pack for yourself and your loved one for $179, or even five stones, perhaps for grandkids or other adult siblings, for $399. Of course, Smartstones is not intended to replace conversation or the cellphone, but it is useful to convey simple messages. “We are making it easier to communicate with family, friends and care providers,” Forsland says.

 

 

 

Private: How Baby Boomers and Seniors Are “Aging in Place”

 Bill and Betsy Owens recall the growing concerns they had about their house—built in 1876—in Powell, Ohio. They loved the 12-foot ceilings, the circular stairway and the formal parlor. But when the couple thought about the future, the home’s steep steps and narrow doorways meant “it wasn’t very livable,” says Mr. Owens, age 57.

So, three years ago, the Owens built an addition. Now there are no steps from the driveway into their new kitchen and great room. A control pad with smart technology turns lights on and off, and three-foot-wide doorways offer easy access for a grandchild in a stroller or, if the Owens should need it, a walker or wheelchair.

“Our homes aren’t aging as well as we are,” says Mr. Owens, a Columbus, Ohio, contractor.

Older adults are renovating to stay at homeCall it a baby-boom building boom. Hoping to remain in their homes and communities as they age—but recognizing that living spaces can become unsafe and difficult to navigate—people in their 50s and beyond are retrofitting houses, building additions or constructing new digs with age-friendly features.

“You have to design for a ‘you’ that doesn’t exist yet,” says Louis Tenenbaum, a Rockville, Md., contractor and founder of the Aging in Place Institute, a nonprofit that educates businesses and consumers about aging in place.

The big picture is worrisome. A recent study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that less than 25% of homeowners age 55-plus have a bedroom and full bathroom on the first floor of their homes, a way to get into the house without steps, and no steps between rooms—universal design features that make life easier for all ages.

Remodeling can be pricey. But given the high cost of care in an assisted-living facility or nursing home, such improvements can make sense, experts say.

“People have a financial plan, an estate plan and an insurance plan. How about a frailty or disability plan?” asks Mary Tuuk, a

geriatrician in Denver.

Here is a look at three families who have taken the plunge.

Say goodbye to steps

Two years ago, Frank Briber made the case to his wife, Fran Pollitt: He was no longer willing to live in Fryeburg, Maine. The town has no public transportation, and Portland, the nearest big city, is 90 minutes away. “Rural Maine is a tough place to live as you grow older,” says Mr. Briber, 65, a retired banker.

The pair decided to move to Wayland, Mass., a Boston suburb. They bought Ms. Pollitt’s mother’s house, tore it down and are building a brick, French-chateau-style home.

“We’ve seen our parents get old,” Mr. Briber says. “We want to make it as easy as possible as we enter those years.” For the couple, that means minimal upkeep and no-hassle navigating.

When the house is completed in the first half of next year, it will have a gently sloped walkway—really a ramp with landscaping on both sides to disguise it—to the step-free door. The pair’s master bedroom and bath will be on the main level. The powder room will have a wide door, grab bars that look like elegant towel bars, and a vanity with space below for a walker.

When their adult children (each has two from a prior marriage) and the grandchildren visit, their quarters will be upstairs.

Mr. Briber doesn’t want to worry about mowing, so he’s creating a meadow with wildflowers. And then there is the backyard. “We could have had beautiful tiered terraces,” says Ms. Pollitt, 61, “but we can’t be going up and down steps all the time.” It, too, will be sloped with few stairs.

The couple expects to spend $3 million. The hefty price is less the result of its age-friendly features than of high-end finishes and materials. (It will be a passive-energy house—one designed to use far less energy than the typical home.) Still, if they ever have to sell, Mr. Briber says, “there are enough retired people who would buy this house in a second. There are very few homes designed with aging in place in mind.”

The bathroom gets an upgrade

Sally Evans, 67, and Brian Rodgers, 66, adore their Bellaire, Texas, townhouse and want to live there “for 20 or 30 more years,” says Ms. Evans.

But their small master bathroom had turn faucets, a deep, treacherous bathtub, a narrow 24-inch-wide door, and a step-up shower with sliding glass doors. 

Not today. The door was expanded 10 inches, and the new vanity is raised, making it gentler on the back. The couple nixed the tub and installed lever faucets. (“It’s a lot easier to use,” says Ms. Evans, “and arthritis runs in my family.”) There is also a curbless walk-in shower with a teak fold-up chair.

Oh yes, and five grab bars.

“Even though we don’t need them now, we thought, ‘Why not put them in and be ready?’ ” says Ms. Evans, a public-relations consultant. “Brian and I are in good shape and work out five days a week, so I’m amazed at how much I use the grab bars. I don’t want to take the chance of falling.” She finds the grab bar with a hand-held shower head on it “cool.”

It cost $32,500 to retrofit their bathroom; age-friendly items added just $2,000 to the tab.

No bending, no tripping

The four bedrooms in the Owens’s 19th-century home are an 18-step climb from the first floor.

“Life has a way of throwing you curveballs. It’s a pretty big deal if something were to happen now or in 20 years,” says Mr. Owens.

So the Owens looked around and decided that if they ever need a bedroom on the first floor, it will be their parlor. A full bathroom that’s already nearby makes them golden. 

Today, there are no steps anywhere on the first floor and expansive spaces to move about. “As soon as you walk through the door, you know something is different,” Mr. Owens says.

To prevent tripping, the rugs and entry mat in the new space are recessed into the hardwood floor. The wood is good for walking and wheelchairs, holds up well, and is easy to maintain. A heated-tile floor, great for cold mornings, is also flush with the hardwood in another area.

Kitchen counters have variable heights for sitting (if a person wishes to sit, or if someone is in a wheelchair) and standing. Upper cabinets are few; that helps eliminate heavy lifting, reaching for items, and potentially falling. Drawers and doors underneath the counter close automatically, requiring no hand strength.

Rather than bend down to reach plugs, the couple put outlets at least 18 inches off the floor. A keyless entry means one less thing to worry about, too.

About one-third of the $170,000 price tag for the addition (which would have run $220,000 if Mr. Owens wasn’t in the building business) was spent on age-friendly features, but guests and family of all ages are benefiting. He points out that his three children, ages 17 to 23, will “especially appreciate the no-step entry if they blow out their knees skiing!”

 

 

 

Private: Older Actors Are Taking To The Stage in WSJ

WallStreetJournal-logoHere’s a piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal

Clovis Clark, age 59, is a professional nurse. But she also has spent time recently as a conniving, murderous sister and a madam in a brothel.

Her latter roles came courtesy of an Atlanta theater group, the Past Prime Players.

“I love this,” says the Ellenwood, Ga., resident, who has performed in dramas, comedies, murder mysteries, skits and monologues. “Acting is an opportunity to become someone else.”

The 50-plus crowd is stage-struck. Across the country, growing numbers of older adults are joining theater companies and signing up for classes in acting, directing and playwriting. Many—empty-nesters or newly retired—have never set foot on a stage and are seeking new outlets. But many others, like Ms. Clark, caught the acting bug in high school or college, before pursuing other (paying) careers.

Return engagements

Now, they’re back. And finding new rewards.

“The experience of acting is very different as a 50-something-year-old,” says Karen Sellinger in Albany, Calif. She majored in theater in college but opted to be a psychologist.

Now, at age 60, she’s taking classes at Stagebridge, a senior theater company in Oakland, Calif.

“There’s not this dog-eat-dog competition,” Ms. Sellinger says. “It’s a…community where we’re all rooting for, and supporting, each other.

“We’re all struggling with health issues and memory,” she adds. But “I’m not thinking about my stage of life on stage. I don’t feel my knee hurt. Age is not a part of it.”

Stagebridge is evidence of the trend. Currently, 250 people take one or more of the 30 classes taught weekly in acting, playwriting, improv, storytelling, singing and musical theater, among other subjects. The number of courses has doubled in the past five years. At least half of the enrollees are ages 50 to 70.

In all, the company has eight performing troupes that visit schools, senior centers, public theaters and adult day centers. Every other year, the nonprofit commissions a play in which both professionals and students act.

“The appeal for many is that they know they’re going to be working with a group of people,” says Stuart Kandell, the founder of Stagebridge. “What they may not realize is that the group becomes a real family. Laughing, depending upon one another, making mistakes and recovering together builds a real bond.”

Bonnie Vorenberg, president of ArtAge Publications’ Senior Theatre Resource Center in Portland, Ore., which works with theater groups across the country and internationally, says she now has 791 senior theater groups in her database—up from 79 in 1997. While the growth is welcome, new organizations, she says, invariably face a steep learning curve.

Put another way: “King Lear” isn’t always the right play to start with.

“What works well for older actors is a very narrow genre,” Ms. Vorenberg explains. “Plays can’t be too long—short work is best, at 10 to 20 minutes—[and] they can’t be too difficult because that would require more rehearsals, and people will say, ‘I’m not doing this.’ But they can’t be too easy because then actors won’t be artistically challenged.” (Some companies have actors read their scripts on 

stage; others require them to memorize their lines.)

Scriptwriters, directors and actors say that, increasingly, shows with modern, realistic themes resonate. Audiences—and, in particular, older theatergoers—want to see older adults in positive roles, whether it’s having a new job or being sexually active.

Says Mr. Kandell at Stagebridge: “Theatrical literature has mirrored the popular cultural views of how we see older adults: either as pathetic victims trapped in nursing homes or as super grannies surfing huge waves and running marathons.”

Money trouble

Another challenge for senior theater groups: money. Actors are usually amateurs—not a big draw for donors. And funding for aging doesn’t usually go to the arts. Rather than considered life-enhancing, theater groups often are regarded as a frill.

 

The challenges haven’t deterred Monciella Elder, 61, from becoming a theater director and playwright. In 2009, the professional singer and actor had to stop performing due to multiple sclerosis. “I was so depressed,” she recalls. Then a nearby senior center asked her to run its drama club. Soon after, she left to found Past Prime Players in Atlanta.

Ms. Elder has taken the 18 or so actors, ages 57 to 68, “from ground zero,” she says. She trains them in voice projection, character development, improvisation and acting, along with lighting, sound and set design. In the past four years, she has written and directed more than 20 plays and skits.

For casting, she puts commitment before auditions. Actors must agree to attend twice-weekly, two-hour rehearsals, and three or four a week closer to production.

Her troupe has played at churches, women’s conferences, dinner theaters, schools and senior centers, as well as large venues in Atlanta, New Orleans and Atlantic City (where Ms. Clark played her role as a lady of the evening). Along with lighter themes, Ms. Elder has tackled spousal abuse, death and loss, and sexual orientation.

Before every performance, the actors tell the audience, “We may be past our prime, but we still love to play.” Through her work, Ms. Elder also hopes to dispel stereotypes about aging and to inspire others in their 50s and beyond. Her message: It’s never too late to follow your dreams.

Right on cue, after every performance, Ms. Elder says her phone rings with inquiries from audience members who want to join the Past Prime Players.

At a recent rehearsal, she suggested the group take a week off. They wouldn’t hear of it.

“I can’t get them to go home,” she says. “They’re enjoying themselves so much.”

Private: Content Writing: The Benefits of Blogging

Why would a company that focuses on baby boomers and seniors–or really any demographic–want to have a blog? Blogging can be a powerful tool for businesses. Because I blog for many companies, I spoke at  Harvard Business School recently on a panel about the value of corporate marketing. Rather than repeat its benefits, I thought I would share a slide I created for the event.  It says it all!

 

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Private: Kids and Alzheimer’s: 9 Unforgettable Books

best books for kids about Alzheimer's, one by Max Wallack
Max and his inspiration

Wallack appears to be every parent’s dream (let’s hope he has a few irritating qualities. . .) Half of the proceeds from the book go to support Alzheimer’s research and care of patients. While a student at Boston University, he works in the school’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center as well as BU’s Laboratory of Molecular Psychiatry in Aging.

He’s written academic papers and travels to scientific conferences. He was presenting something serious in California when I got in touch for an AARP story I wrote about him. Last week, I see he was featured on CNN

Not perfect son enough? I haven’t mentioned Puzzles to Remember, a non-profit he founded a few years back that donates fewer-than-the-usual-50-or-100-piece puzzles to nursing homes and day care centers. 

Check out these other eight excellent books on Alzheimer’s and dementia:

Photo courtesy of puzzlestoremember.org.

 

 

Private: What Happens to Social Media When You Die?

Just when you thought you had all the important documents you need to know your loved one’s wishes — power of attorney, will, health care directive, perhaps Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) — here’s another to consider: a social media will.

This digital estate planning document states what you want to have happen to your social media — Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, email account — when you die. Just as you need an executor of your estate, you’d have to appoint a legal online executor.

As more older people go online — a 2012 Pew Research Center study found one-third of Internet users age 65+ go on social networking sites on a typical day — grow older and pass away, who has a say in their social media content is likely to become a mainstream concept. No doubt it will spawn lawsuits, or at least bad blood, among those who want to keep a loved one’s posts on the site and those who don’t. (Ultimately, those cases will be decided by state law.)

In the meantime, with a death certificate, Facebook will either remove a deceased person’s profile/account or change it from active to a memorial page. People can share memories and photos of the person and keep the timeline, but the status updates won’t pop up. (“Hi, I’m no longer among the living” or “Back in five. Gone to meet my maker.”)

Twitter and LinkedIn will also deactivate an account with a death certificate. LinkedIn and Google require an authorized representative of the estate to make the request.

Google recently introduced the Inactive Account Manager. If your account becomes inactive, Google’s “Grim Reaper Manager” will warn you by text message and email that it’s inactive (a prank-proof move). If it’s not a false alarm — you’ve really expired — you will have already told Google what you want done with your Gmail messages and other services or else appointed others to make the decision.

For those who just can’t say goodbye, there are services that allow you to keep your online presence even after you’re gone. You heard correctly. DeadSocial lets you compose Facebook, Twitter and Facebook messages for future times (birthdays, other important dates or whenever) when you’re no longer around. LivesOn, which plans to launch (unclear when) has this cheery motto: “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.” And, if i die is a Facebook app that allows you to create video or text messages that get published postmortem.

So much for a digital afterlife. If you’re still here and haven’t come up with a Mother’s Day or Grandma present for this Sunday, how about downloading a free app called EasyFamily Social, in English or Spanish? It simplifies Facebook (six big buttons) and makes it easier for older adults to share photos and messages with family. The company has a campaign to get 17 Million Grandmas on Facebook.

A little motherly advice: if you download that Facebook app for Mom or Granny, you might want to save the social media wills/digital legacy talk for another time!

Private: The Shape of Things to Come: Adult Playgrounds

Caregivers: There’s a fitness movement afoot that may make you jump for joy. In the last year, adult outdoor playgrounds with low impact-exercise equipment have been springing up around the country.

Some are incorporated into kiddie playgrounds, known as “multigenerational playgrounds.” Others are near the children’s area, while still others are separate older adult areas (“senior playgrounds”).

Designers have skipped the swings in favor of balance beams, sit-up and chin-up bars, cross trainers, stationary exercise bikes, fitness stations and walking paths.

What does that have to do with caregivers? You can take your grandkids and both of you can get health benefits. Or, go with your parent, relative, spouse or friend. While they’re on the body flexer, you can be doing pushups! Off caregiving duty? Walk (good move!) to the playground and work on boosting your muscle strength, balance, stability, and range of motion.

One reason these playgrounds are gaining ground is because exercise is good for the body and the brain. Studies show that physical exercise may help ward off — or at least mitigate — obesity, depression, diabetes, heart disease and memory loss.

Grown-up playgrounds are also an antidote to isolation. Physicians and social scientists say that too much aloneness can lead to loneliness, depression and poor physical health. On the other hand, social interaction — getting out and being with people — has positive health benefits.

The healthcare company Humana and the nonprofit KaBOOM! have partnered to construct a slew of multigenerational playgrounds. Since last year, they have built them in Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, FL, Seattle, WA, New Orleans, LA, Greensboro, NC, Albuquerque, NM, Tucson, AZ, Nashville, TN, San Antonio, TX, Alburnett, IA and Thermal, CA.

No sweat! This month is Tampa, FL’s turn (in time for the Democratic National Convention), with another to follow in Charlotte, NC. You guessed it, ready to roll at the Republican convention.

Non-Humana playgrounds include Springfield Township, OH, Ithaca, NY., and four in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.

The City of New York is hot to trot, too. They’ve built an adult playground in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium and hope to construct two dozen more around the city by 2014.

We’re not exactly on the cutting edge. For nearly 20 years, China and Japan have had outdoor exercise areas for the over age 60 set. Austria, Germany and other parts of Europe have them, too. And, a couple of years ago, the Hyde Park Senior Playground, affectionately known as the “pensioner’s playground,” debuted in London.

The best part about adult playgrounds? No hefty gym club fee. No loud music. No twenty-something, ridiculously toned bodies.

Private: Recipe for Lifelong Learning: Meat + MBA

Just wrote a fun piece for the new PBS boomer website Next Avenue (tagline: “Where Grown-ups Keep Growing”).

Introducing three adult sons and their father who are in a thriving family meat business.  The four just received their MBAs and have attended night graduate school together to snag other advanced degrees. Read on!

courtesy of Demakes family

As soon as the professor in the Suffolk University Master’s of Business Administration course took roll call in September 2007, the cat was out of the bag:

Thomas Demakes? Here.

Elias Demakes? Here.

Timothy Demakes? Here.

Andrew Demakes? Here.

Not that patriarch Tom, 69, and his three thirtysomething sons, who graduated this May from the Boston school’s five-year night MBA program, were trying to keep their kinship under wraps.

MBAs for the Family

Tom thought an MBA would help the Demakes clan get better at running their fourth-generation national meat manufacturing business, Old Neighborhood Foods in Lynn, Mass. (The family also owns Thin ‘N Trim, a sister company that sells low-fat, low-sodium deli foods, chicken sausage and chicken hot dogs.)

And yet, being in the same classroom with Dad “could be embarrassing,” recalls Elias, a sales manager like his brothers. “My father says what he wants when he wants, and there were times I’d start to sink under my chair!”

But other students in the class were envious, telling the Demakes sons they’d love to get a degree with members of their own families.

Make that degrees.

A History of Enrolling Together

The four Demakes men have previously taken a real estate appraiser’s degree program as well as one in commercial real estate.

Why the focus on real estate if meat is their bread and butter, so to speak?

Tom insisted that the “kids,” as he calls them, work for someone else before joining Old Neighborhood Foods, and they all chose real estate, commercial and residential. (Tom also owns investment property.)

Although his sons grew up working at his plant every summer, Tom didn’t want to pressure them into coming into the business, the way his dad did in 1967 when Tom returned from Vietnam. Timothy and Andrew joined Old Neighborhood Foods around the time they started the MBA program; Elias began there two years ago.

The businesses currently bring in annual sales of nearly $100 million. They have 375 employees at two locations, supplying more than 100 products to supermarket chains, hospitals, restaurants and sandwich shops.

Tom led the charge for the gang to get their latest degree, paid for by their company. He has long insisted that they continue learning every chance they can. “My father is the consummate professor,” says Elias. “You can’t just hang out and relax!”

Business School vs. Real Life

Tom, who graduated from William & Mary, was intrigued by the Suffolk MBA program because he wanted to know what business school taught these days and how the curriculum related to real-world experience.

His conclusion about the instruction: “Some is a little idealistic, some is spot-on.”

Tom also wanted an MBA so he’d stay in step with the current business environment and his employees.

“I have a lot of younger people working here,” he says. “By going to school with hundreds of men and women like my kids, I got a sense of how they think and what is important to them.”

Not in the Curriculum

The Demakes took the same entrepreneurial and branding courses, sat in the same classrooms, were often on the same teams and worked on papers together. In one marketing class, they met an advertising CEO who wound up redesigning their websites.

One subject not in the curriculum: complaining.

Although the brothers sometimes found it tough to juggle full-time work and academics, they knew they couldn’t grouse to their dad about it.

Andrew says that while they were taking one or two classes a week, “we traveled a lot and sometimes we were tired. We would do whining and moaning on our own. But with my father, it’s not much of an option.”

How Their MBAs Helped

Ideas picked up in the MBA classes led the Demakes clan to rethink ways to sell current products and come up with new ones.

For instance, they previously sold shaved steak only to sandwich shops, restaurants and food service institutions. Now they’re offering it in supermarkets, too. “Business school reinforces ways to grow business and extend your brand,” says Elias.

The Demakeses say that getting their Suffolk MBA together deepened their bonds with one another.

“Business school has given me a chance to know my sons better and for them to know me better,” says Tom.

Marill Demakes, Tom’s wife of 35 years, is fiercely proud of her husband and their kids.

“When have you ever heard of a father and three sons going to grad school together?” she asks. “It’s very inspiring.”

Another Degree Ahead?

Now, with their freshly minted MBAs, Tom is floating a new idea: Why don’t he and his sons all go to law school?

Elias is intrigued. “Being able to represent my own company would be quite a feat and an asset to our business,” he says. “But I’m not sure my father will be able to get my brothers on board!”

If history is any guide, the four of them may soon be sitting in another classroom.

Private: Grey Divorce Not So Black and White

Lately I’ve heard of lots of people married for decades who are getting a divorce. Last week, a friend told me about a couple I know married 43 years who just called it quits. He found his high school love on Facebook. .

Divorce is so rampant among boomers it is now known as “grey divorce.” The reasons vary and the implications economically, psychologically, and professionally are enormous. I interviewed experts, as well as divorced and divorcing men and women for a recent story I did for AARP.

Why do you think so many long-married couples are saying “see ya?” How has being single in later life impacted people you know?

 

Photo by geography.org.uk via Creative Commons

 

And, a cool idea for family caregivers:

Until recently, if you were confined to your house, a hospital, or long-term care, you might get a visit from a chaplain or a weekly religious service at the facility. But for the more spiritual and religious, that feels like putting a penny in the money basket at church—a nice gesture, but inadequate.

The advent of online religious and spiritual offerings may be the answer to your prayers. Want to know why?

Private: Boomers and Divorce–Ugh

Divorced, single and struggling–photo courtesy of AARP

Boomers love to do everything their own way, and they are out in front on divorce, too. While the overall divorce rate in the United States has decreased since 1990, it has doubled for those over age 50.

Divorced boomers, like Edith Heyck, are finding creative ways to make it on their own after a split. — Photo by Robyn Twomey/Redux
Reasons vary: Longer lives mean more years with an incompatible spouse; no kids to use as a reason to stay together; less stigma about splitting; more women working, some outearning their spouses; and a remarriage failure rate of 60 percent.

The surge has spawned the term “gray divorce.” As Jay Lebow, a psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, says, “If late-life divorce were a disease, it would be an epidemic.”

One out of three boomers will face older age unmarried, says Susan Brown, codirector of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in her new study “The Gray Divorce Revolution.”

That’s significant. The fact that onetime legally bound partners have gone their separate ways later in life — or are single by choice or circumstances — has many personal and societal ramifications.

More on Gray Divorce

What happens to your Social Security after a divorce? Read
Everything you need to know about dating after divorce. Read
How divorce hurts adult children. Read
Join AARP Today – Receive access to exclusive information, benefits and discounts.

Paying on your own

Even if not divorced, older adults can be vulnerable financially in today’s economy. But a split-up hardly helps. “You end up with only half of what you had when you were married, and half can feel like nothing,” says Ginita Wall, a San Diego CPA and certified divorce financial analyst.

“Keep in mind that many consequences of divorcing later in life revolve around one fact: less time to recover financially, recoup losses, retire debt and ride the waves of booms and busts,” says Janice Green, an Austin, Texas, family law attorney and author of Divorce After 50.

More than half of all workers or their spouses have less than $25,000 in household savings and investments, according to the 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey, published by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute. Women also still earn less than men and have a longer life expectancy, which puts them at greater economic risk. “Once women wind up older and alone, whether it’s widowed, divorced or never married, they’re at a fairly high rate of poverty, on average 20 percent,” says Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Singles will also depend more on public benefits, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, according to Maya Rockeymoore, a Social Security expert. With the oldest of the 78 million boomers turning 85 in 2031, the government tab could be staggering. In 2021, Medicare alone is expected to cost taxpayers $1.1 trillion — up from $586 billion in 2012.

To stay afloat, some singles, like Eileen Lewis, 66, take in boarders. Divorced at 50 after a two-decade marriage, she rents out a room in her Catonsville, Md., home. The income helps her pay her utilities, gas and part of her mortgage — and enabled her to take a cruise, “something I never would have been able to do before,” she says.

Someone to watch over me

Caregiving adds to the burden of aging alone — and it, too, typically affects women. A 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP survey found that 66 percent of caregivers were female, with women providing on average 21.9 hours per week vs. 17.4 hours for males. And, according to a National Alliance for Caregiving/Evercare survey, the average out-of-pocket expense for caregivers is $5,531 a year, $8,728 if helping from a distance and $5,885 if the caregiver and care recipient live together.

Older men may make out better financially than women, but they don’t fare so well at finding someone to take care of them when they’re older. “They often don’t have alternative care networks the way women do,” says Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University. “If a man gets divorced, his support in later life is gone. Plan B may be to remarry because he needs a caregiver.”

After divorce, children often live with their mothers. If dads move away or don’t stay close, adult children may not be willing to be caregivers when needed.

Remarriage for either ex is murky territory, too. “If you acquire a stepson when you’re 60, will he help you when you’re old?” asks Cherlin. “We’re creating complex family relationships where we’re related to more people but obligated to fewer.” Even if there is a close bond, children may not live close by.

When asked who they’ll turn to when they’re older, single men often cite paid help, says Teresa Cooney, a gerontologist at the University of Missouri. But paid help is pricey, and can be hard to find. Up to half of the 5.4 million adults with Alzheimer’s have no identifiable caregiver. Former spouses often step in, mainly to spare their children, or because no one else can, says Cooney.

New configurations

The end of a marriage often leads to the formation of a new family, with relatives or friends assuming the caregiving role of a spouse. It can also lead to some unexpected living arrangements.

After her marriage of 32 years ended in 2008, Ellen Rittberg, 60, of Long Island, N.Y., moved to her mother’s home to save money. A year into the arrangement, her mom broke her pelvis; Rittberg decided to stay. Now they care for each other. “It is mutual love and companionship,” says the mother of three and grandmother of two. “I went from being embarrassed that I was living with my mother to feeling so lucky we’re close, and that I can do this.”

Not everyone has family, can live with them, or wants to. According to AARP, 22.3 percent of women and 12.5 percent of men age 50-plus live alone. With people living longer, adult children could wind up caring for three or four parents, plus stepparents. Already, one-third of all female caregivers care for two or more people.

Though most people want to grow old in their homes, some don’t have that choice. Those living in the suburbs or a rural area with limited public transportation and social interaction have additional challenges.

Some singles who don’t want to burden their children are creating their own support systems. Arthur Okner, a divorced, retired management consultant, owns a condo in a Boulder, Colo., cohousing community, where decisions are made by consensus. “I have very little family,” says Okner, 70. “Here, I belong to a community.”

Also on the rise are “villages,” where older adults living on their own have access to vetted services, like home repair, as well as trips, lunches or evening events for an annual fee, $350 on average. Other singles make their own arrangements. Edith Heyck, 61, an artist from Newburyport, Mass., shared a condo for three years with another divorcee in her 50s. “I enjoyed the companionship and it was a financial relief,” she says. When her friend sold the condo, Heyck moved in with an older woman, until Heyck lost her place to a new boyfriend. Now, Heyck is “sofa surfing,” until she’s eligible for senior housing. “I never planned for my financial future,” says Heyck. “I just assumed I would be married.”

Sally Abrahms, coauthor of What Every Woman Should Know About Divorce and Custody, writes about boomers and aging.

Private: Tax Talk, New Job?

Okay, talking taxes is a lot less riveting than my last post on how senior centers are trying to woo boomers (that’s riveting!), but figuring out how to get a tax deduction for taking care of a parent, relative, or in-law is worth it. Do you qualify for a $3700 deduction for caregiving or can you deduct your relatives’ medical expenses?

That is the topic of my weekly blog post for AARP. And, the Wall Street Journal wrote a similar piece the same week. Great venues think alike!

New subject: I want to put in a plug for my friend Kerry Hannon’s book What’s Next? She writes for AARP, Forbes and USA Today. And she’s working on a new book AARP Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills. Stay tuned.

Kerry Hannon’s book on changing careers

Private: Senior Centers are Wooing Boomers

Photo by George Contorakes/Masterfile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know it’s hard to believe, but you can join a motorcycle riding club, throw pots in a ceramic studio, learn to blog, work out a session with a personal trainer, and have uber fitness facilities at–yup, you read it right–a senior center.

Read about how senior centers are changing to snag a younger demographic in my latest Huffington Post piece.

 

More news:  a milestone last week in NYC: the opening of the country’s first LGBT senior center called the SAGE Innovative Senior Center. Check out its debut.

Private: Huffington Post Starts New Over 50 Section

The Huffington Post has decided it’s time to give those boomers their own section! “Huff/Post 50” launched today, and has a piece I wrote entitled “A Not-So-Rare Breed of Boomers.” Here’s the link: http://huff.to/o7oiDh

It talks about what crazed beasts we humans are with our dogs. There’s even a mention of my fabulous Springer Spaniel Isabella (alas, deceased).

I am thrilled to be blogging regularly on boomers and aging for the Huffington Post. Be sure to check me out there http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sally-abrahms/.

Private: Creative Aging: Get Used To It

Confession: I wasn’t dying to go to the brunch at my mother-in-law’s assisted living place out of town today. The musicians who play these gigs could easily be residents.

The visit is particularly tough for me because my 91-year-old mother died just a month ago. In the lobby is my mother-in-law (happy 92nd next week) is wheeling my mother’s cobalt blue walker (the Range Rover of geriatric gear), which I gave her, along with lots of my mother’s jewelry.

She looks fabulous in the chunky, alabaster glass necklace and matching earrings. Compliments are flowing about her gems from fellow residents and their families. I am thrilled I have given them to her, and I know my mother would have been pleased, too, but it feels weird, too. I’m feeling a bit blue.

But then, at dessert this woman Roz I have never met comes up and asks me if I am my mother-in-law! Hmmm. Then she asks me if I’d like to hear her play the piano. Why not, I think? I can do this!! So I follow her into the other room.

She can barely see and has just confused me with a nonagenerian, so I’m hardly expecting mad piano skills. The woman is amazing! She plays vivaciously from memory and belts out the lyrics to “If I Were a Rich Man,” and then some songs from her era I haven’t heard.

Roz crooning away

A 14-month-old great, great granddaughter of another resident is carried into the room and starts to dance.  The pianist is delighted with her audience–the baby, her mother, and I-all folks who have just met Roz. I clap and the baby is twirled. After one song, Roz shows infant a brightly colored velcro toy on her walker; the little girl is fascinated.

After six consecutive songs, Roz rises and takes her walker. I tell her my name and she says, “Sorry, I can’t remember names. It’s so embarrassing living here for four years with the same people and I have no idea what their names are.”

I tell her, “You may not remember names, but they can’t play the piano like you.” She thinks about it and says, “Yes, but wouldn’t you be embarrassed if you couldn’t remember?”

What I will remember from today is not to underestimate people, regardless of age.

But then, I’m writing a story that is not letting me forget it.

Once my piece is published in November, I’ll link to it and explain more. Here’s the teaser:  a concept called Creative Aging that is gaining fans nationwide. You heard it here first!

The premise is that creative expression is essential for older people and that arts programs can yield dramatic physical and emotional benefits for elders–fewer falls, more mobility, less depression, more social engagement, better sense of self. You’ll have to wait for the substantive stuff.

In the meantime, check out the National Center for Creative Aginghttp://www.creativeaging.org/ to learn more,  find out if  these programs are offered for your parents or grandparents, or how you can be part of one.

Just one last note: thanks, Roz!

Private: Solutions for Working Caregivers With Clueless Bosses

Staggering statistic: 61.1 million Americans care for older friends or relatives (AARP). Here’s another: Caregiving costs U.S. businesses nearly $33.billion a year in productivity (MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving).

Okay, it’s a dilemma for both sides. In my AARP Bulletin piece http://aarp.us/oslBAh, I talk to working caregivers, some of whom feel penalized for having aging parent responsibilities.

I also ask negotiator extraordinaire Susan Hackley, executive director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, for strategies to discuss caregiving responsibilities with your boss.

Here are a couple of her tips (read the rest in my story):

1. Level with your boss and explain you can do your job and take care of Mom, Dad, or a spouse.

2.  Describe the problem and have solutions ready, from working from home a day or two a week or leaving early and making up the time. Invite your boss to discuss his/her concerns.

Other resources you can check out:

The National Alliance for Caregiving www.caregiving.org

The National Family Caregivers Association www.nfcacares.org/

Private: How Can We Change the Negative Attitudes Toward Older Workers?

Older workers get a bad rap: too slow, not productive enough. But what about a company that seeks out the 70, 80, and even 90-year-old set? At the Vita Needle Factory in Needham, MA, I visited a factory where grey hair, or no hair, is the norm, where the annual gross sales are $11 million, and employees are valued for their loyalty, quality of product, work ethic.

Some don’t even need the paycheck, but do the manual labor to stay connected, hang out with peers, and have a sense of purpose. Did I mention they have to walk up 19 steep steps to get to the factory floor? Rather than a sense of drudgery, visitors see productivity and optimism. It made this 50-something feel like a slacker!

Do you think we value older, older workers and if not, why not? Would you would want to work at that age? What would you rather be doing?

Watch them at work in this youtube video: http://bit.ly/nop60U

Private: Not Your Typical Hendrix Cover Band

Young@Heart is singing rock ‘n roll, dancing, and touring Europe—in their 70s, 80s, and 90s!! I interviewed this Northampton, MA, group for TIME and found them riveting! I love their sense of fun, enthusiasm, and energy. Rather than sing Sinatra, they’re gyrating to the Clash, Coldplay, and the Talking Heads.

Here’s the official Young@Heart trailer.  I’m sure the video can’t capture how cool they are. I got to see them in the flesh! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjnfoFg7i7g

Private: Should the Boomer Generation Be Called the Divorce Generation?

Just read a piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/125272069.html) that says one-quarter of all divorces happen in 20+-year-long marriages and terming boomers “the most divorce-prone generation in history.” Stats show 23.4% over age 70 are divorced, while it’s 35.7% for people in their 50’s.

That validates what I’m seeing. I know of several couples married more than 30 years who, in the last two years, are splitzville. Lots of speculation why, from better health, longevity, and expectations, less stigma, to being at different stages to no commonalities. Any thoughts?

Also just ran across a Wall Street Journal piece on Generation X parents–the kids of those boomer divorcees–who vowed not to behave like Mom and Dad. It doesn’t always turn out that way. Here’s the link: http://tinyurl.com/3zaqfy8

Private: Wising Up With Retirement

In his Huffington Post piece, Aging Guru Ken Dychtwald mentions a 2011 survey conducted by heavy hitters (Age Wave, SunAmerica, and Harris Interactive) of 1,000 men and women ages 55+ who are either pre-retirees or retirees on their attitudes toward retirement.

The take-aways:

1. It will be good and bad. Boomers will have fewer government entitlements and less money, but they’ll stay active, keep learning and growing and leading interesting lives. They’ll also be more careful with, and educated about, their money.

2.  70% expect their adult children will need financial help from them

3. 78% respondents believe they can still have a good retirement if they’re more financially disciplined

4. 77% of pre-retirees want to work in retirement, more for personal satisfaction than even money.

Here’s Dychtwald’s Huff Po piece: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ken-dychtwald/retirement-aging-better-worse_b_895587.html

Check out the report at retirementreset.com