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Retirement Weekly: Seniors want to stay at home, but they may need help with daily living. Should they hire a concierge?

Over the last decade, a once-obscure business has gained popularity. Concierge services for seniors are easier than ever to find.

A concierge supports a senior’s ability to navigate their daily life. That can mean driving them to the hairdresser and medical appointments, running errands for them and simply spending time with them at home or on outings.

The convergence of three trends explains the growth in concierges. First, older people want to stay in their home. Enlisting an individual or team of helpers enables them to continue to live independently.

Second, the sheer number of aging Americans means that more people want the services that a concierge offers. With roughly 73 million baby boomers—and about 10,000 individuals turning 65 every day—there are more folks living longer and seeking help.

Finally, seniors largely stayed put during the pandemic to protect their health. This led concierges to expand their service offerings and handle more tasks, from shopping for groceries to picking up prescriptions, for their stay-at-home clients.

If you type “senior concierge services” in a search engine, you’ll probably see a list of local providers. The challenge is finding an affordable, reputable service in which a caring, conscientious concierge gets along well with the customer.

“You have to vet any concierge before you hire them,” said Katharine Giovanni, a concierge consultant in Wake Forest, N.C. “Anyone can have a website and a business card and be ready to go.”

There are different models of concierge support. Senior living communities often provide concierge services to residents as part of the monthly rent.

For older people who remain in their home, regional or national franchises offer concierge services. These companies hire workers and assign them to seniors. 

When contacting these companies, ask about their hiring practices. Ideally, they conduct background checks, contact references and do other due diligence. 

Also, ask if the same concierge will visit the client on most or all occasions—or is there a rotating group of hired hands? 

If it’s one person assigned to help, the odds increase of a sustainable friendship taking hold. You’ll still want to confirm the availability of backup personnel in case the primary concierge is unable to work.

“Beware of hidden fees,” warned Giovanni, author of “The Concierge Manual.” “In addition to charging an hourly rate, they might charge for gas or wear and tear on their car.”

Other concierge services, by contrast, operate as sole proprietors. Scrutinize these businesses carefully, checking online reviews as well as the firm’s website.

“Go to the ‘About’ section on their website,” Giovanni said. “You want to see the owner’s picture and bio. Some of these small, one-person boutiques only offer vague, general information” without identifying anyone by name.

If you’re trusting by nature, keep your guard up. Inviting someone into your home (or your elderly parent’s home) poses risks.

From petty stealing to identity theft, dangers abound. Someone with access to an older person’s cash, credit card or debit card can engage in misdeeds. There are cases in which a perpetrator forges checks belonging to others and uses their identity to open bank accounts to deposit the checks.

Word-of-mouth references, especially from trusted friends, helps allay such fears. It’s reassuring to hire a concierge with experience caregiving for parents or other seniors.

Lisa Renwick recently launched Nan’s Neighbors, a concierge service in West Orange, N.J. She started helping seniors in late 2021, driving them to shop or to medical appointments and keeping them company during the day.

“I’m seeing more elderly people wanting to live with dignity and grace,” she said. “It’s good to have someone check up on them, spend time with them and do meal prep for them, especially if they don’t have children who are close by.”

Renwick, 53, cannot dispense medications or provide medical assistance. But she can offer what she calls “transportation and friendship.”

Before starting her business, Renwick researched other concierge operators. She found that some senior service organizations or localities offer limited help but restrict the scope of their services.

“They may not work for certain hours or not drive beyond a certain distance,” she said. “I’m door-to-door and more personal. I’ll go to the doctor and wait with you.” 

She charges an hourly fee based in part on gas prices and mileage. She keeps tabs on other programs for seniors through Seniors Blue Book, a clearinghouse of local resources.

“My mission is to help people live longer without being a burden for their family,” she said. “I find [seniors] are more laid back with an outsider than with their family. They’re more patient with me. It takes a load off their family when I’m around.”

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