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Knowledge is power

The New Wisdom on Caregiving and Aging – A Conversation with Barbara Feldman

In our continuing series, The New Wisdom on Caregiving and Aging, we decided that our next conversation would be with someone who is working directly with families on one of the more common transitions experienced by aging parents – relocation.

What happens when your elderly loved ones can no longer stay in their home, and must move to an assisted living facility, nursing home or other type of smaller space? A Certified Relocation and Transition Specialist can offer the sort of sensitive and practical assistance they will need to downsize, reallocate and move their belongings.

Barbara Feldman is a Certified Senior Move Manager, one of a select group of individuals who has earned the CRTS® designation. She has become an expert in the growing field of gerontology by working with seniors to help them through this extraordinary life transition.

“Moving on its own is overwhelming. When people are moving and looking at it as their last move… many of them get not only overwhelmed, but completely paralyzed.”

This is where Barbara steps in. “It doesn’t matter how many items they have. It’s their stuff. They’re overwhelmed. A lot of people also have dementia, and this also complicates things. They’re not able to do this on their own.”

Barbara is the owner of A Nu Start NY, a company she founded for the specific purpose of assisting families to relocate their senior members when the time comes to make this change. She works with clients throughout Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Riverdale and Westchester. We recently talked to her about how she got started, and what her work is revealing about the needs of our growing aging population.

“I believe I was born an organizer and entrepreneur. I have been volunteering for the elderly and disabled since junior high school. I have also personally moved 26 times. One day, a friend of mine told me about move management for seniors. I thought, I can do good deeds, perform tasks I already know and make a living??? OMG!”

Barbara is currently relocating one woman who just came out of rehab to her new home in Maryland. Another client is a man whose wheelchair bound wife has dementia. He is so grateful for the help. When one of her clients passed away, leaving a daughter in Florida, Barbara managed the sale, donation and disposal of the entire contents of her mother’s home for her so that she could sell it. Another client whose house was damaged by Hurricane Sandy decided to sell her home and move to an apartment in New York City. Then, there is the woman who hires her to come over every six months and help her organize her stuff. Says Barbara, “Each and every situation presents its own unique challenges.”

At any given time, Barbara is managing about ten clients, all of whom require a generous amount of TLC and hand holding. She often thinks of herself as a Rent-a-Daughter. “You have to be so patient. People will get stuck on pictures, or one box. Everything has a story. So many people are just dying for somebody to talk to…” Barbara’s job is to be there, and at the same time, help them stay focused on the tasks at hand.

We asked her about some of the trends she’s noticing in the choices seniors are making regarding their living situations. She says, “A lot of them want to stay at home.” However, she expressed concern about the fact that many seniors aren’t thinking ahead carefully enough about their future need for a more assisted living environment. “If they don’t move when they’re healthy, by the time they’re ready to move, it’s too late.” She also cites many instances where healthy partners spend their last years caring for their ill spouses, only to end up dying first, leaving their partners in very difficult situations all by themselves.

Barbara also expressed concern at the lack of sufficient housing specifically designed for seniors. In Long Island, many are still living in split level homes that will soon become difficult if not impossible to navigate. New York City only has a couple of assisted living facilities, and in order to qualify for residence, you have to be able to ambulate without a wheelchair for at least 150 feet. Those who can’t meet this physical requirement, or who regularly take medication for diabetes or other chronic medical conditions, must to go a nursing home where they can receive medical monitoring and assistance.

One thing she definitely sees on the horizon is a rise in the idea of shared housing. “If you think about it, airbnb is shared housing.” This type of out-of-the-box thinking may certainly be a new frontier in the landscape of aging, as the limitations of our current system are tested. Perhaps we will see a rise in a new type of communal living, organized by groups of friends who recognize a shared need for support and fellowship.

If asked, Barbara will offer advice about placement. She has working relationships with most of the area’s assisted living and independent living facilities and has a good sense of the culture of these various communities. She is happy to share her insights to support her clients and their decision making process. Barbara also has working relationships with geriatric care managers, hospitals, rehab centers, audiologists, speech therapists, elder care attorneys, real estate brokers, daily money managers, financial planners and antique dealers.

We asked Barbara what she thought was the single most important role she played in the life of her clients. She said, “The ability to take their stress away.” When someone tells you that you’ve helped them breathe again, that has to feel like you’ve made a significant difference…

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