As Maine’s population grows older, some businesses cater to the elderly







By Eloise Vitelli
As printed in the Bangor Daily News

As a gray-haired baby boomer, I take scant comfort in knowing I am far from alone here in the oldest state in New England, if not the nation. The U.S. Census projects that by 2015, 15 percent of the population in Maine will be 65 and older.

Much has been written about the challenges of our graying society — the costs associated with caring for all of us and the lack of younger, more energetic workers to fuel our economy. Some creative types, however, have found opportunities in designing businesses that serve this growing target market.

Deborah McLean of Freeport is one such entrepreneur. She had been working as a marketing manager for a senior care facility when consolidation within the industry led her to look elsewhere. Her familiarity with senior care helped her recognize a need: More and more adult children — baby boomers — were assuming the responsibility of caring for aging parents and were looking for a range of resources that would support a quality of life for their loved ones. That includes housing, personal and home care assistance, recreation and social interaction opportunities, and medical care.

What they needed, Deborah determined, was a one-stop resource guide to all of these services.

With a partner, Deborah launched Maine Senior Guide, an online guide of products, services and resources for seniors, searchable by geography and type of service.

“It took nine months of planning, the investment of our savings and a small loan to get the site up and running Oct. 1, 2010,” Deborah said.

Because the site is content rich — there are more than 780 pages on the site at this point — the structure of the website was crucial. Most active seniors and adult children arranging care for aging parents “want to stay close to home,” said Deborah, so finding Maine-based resources throughout the state is important.

While the users of the site are largely individuals, corporate and business representatives increasingly are looking to support their employees who are faced with caring for aging parents.

To promote the Maine Senior Guide and connect other businesses targeting seniors to their customers, Deborah and her colleagues have sponsored Maine Senior Expos in communities around Maine, with expos scheduled for July in Kennebunk, September in Freeport and October in Waterville.

As with any business, sales, in this case selling listings on the site, is a challenge and one that engages much of Deborah’s time.

Deborah knows the Internet is big and changes all the time.

“As I learned in the New Ventures class, it is never too soon to think of an exit strategy,” she said.

At the moment, she sees unlimited potential to grow the site, add staff and provide value to this growing population. She has plans to help others develop content and market similar sites in other states.

Joanne Rosenthal, owner of Aging Consultation Services of Brunswick, is another who recognized the growing needs of baby boomers. She was able to build on her background in social work and develop her entrepreneurial skills.

As a service professional, she works with individuals in the midcoast area, including those whose parents may live out of state, providing tools and resources to support boomers and their parents through life transitions.

“I can help them develop a game plan, starting with how to hire an in-home companion to planning for increasing levels of care,” she said. “I also facilitate family conversations via phone conferencing or Skype.”

As an independent consultant, Joanne is not there to promote any particular facility or agency but to help her customers find the resources they need and can afford.

“The baby boom generation is looking for more innovative solutions to aging in place, like pooling resources and even sharing housing,” Joanne noted.

David Maurice of Delar General Contracting, based in New Gloucester, has another approach. His side business, Multi-Gen By Design, will build “a home within a home,” an arrangement that can allow aging parents the benefits of both worlds — private, independent space, adjacent to family support, as needed.

In addition to specialized services, innovative products such as remote monitoring and emergency alert devices can offer the opportunity for aging seniors to stay in place and provide business opportunities for younger adults. (See Full Circle America, The Maine Approach.)

Eloise Vitelli is the program director for Women, Work, and Community, a statewide organization that has provided training and assistance to start-up entrepreneurs since 1984.