Trend Watch: Senior Care Franchises

Aging Americans require more and more services--are you tuned in to their needs? A senior-care franchise could be your big break in this growing industry.

By Sara Wilson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For many seniors, the golden years represent a period ofrelaxation--a breath of fresh air after a lifetime of work andresponsibility. For today's entrepreneurs, meanwhile, thegolden years also mean a golden opportunity. Visible on the horizonis an unprecedented demand for senior care, as the first wave ofbaby boomers turns 65 in 2010. Born between 1946 and 1964, thisunique market will soon push the number of Americans ages 65 andolder to 39 million. And as America grays, the senior-carefranchise industry is gaining new life.

In the next 30 years, the number of people 65 and older isexpected to double, and the number of people over age 85 willtriple, according to James Firman, president and CEO of The National Council on theAging, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to improvingthe health and independence of seniors. "There will be a hugeexpansion in the need for services to help people stay at home orin whatever facilities they're in," he says. Thesenior-care industry will "definitely be a major growthindustry."

And growth in the demand for senior care should stay vital for awhile--seniors aren't just increasing in numbers, they'realso living longer. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, theaverage life expectancy in 2000 was 74 years for men and almost 80for women, compared to 66 years for men and 72 for women in1950.

Changing Lifestyles

The true impact of the aging of the baby boomers won't befelt for several years. Yet, due to Americans' changinglifestyles, senior-care franchises already have their hands full.Seniors are depending less on their families and more on outsideresources to receive the help they need. ComfortKeepers and Home Instead Senior Care, which each operate more than400 locations nationwide, are just two examples of franchises thatoffer the elderly nonmedical services such as companionship, mealpreparation and transportation. Comfort Keepers reported franchisegrowth of 17 percent in 2003; meanwhile, Home Instead's totalnumber of franchises grew by 24 percent.

The America that existed a century ago is not the same as theAmerica of today for seniors, due to economic issues, mobility andpeople choosing to have children later in life. Traditional familystructures have changed dramatically. According to the Bureau ofLabor Statistics, there were almost 29 million married, dual-incomecouples in 2002. These numbers have generally been on the risesince the federal government started tracking them a decade ago.For seniors, this means less help from family members who are busyworking. "Most care providers of this type of service are thefamily members themselves," says Jerry Clum, who co-foundedComfort Keepers with his wife, Kris, in 1998. And, says Jerry, thedual-income trend is "placing a great deal of stress anddifficulty on these families."

Another trend that's increasing the need for senior care isthe mobility of Americans. Education and careers often lure theyounger generation away from their parents. "Family membersaren't as near to each other as they used to be," saysJerry.

Another factor affecting care for elderly relatives is that manybaby boomers have in fact waited longer to have children, saysFirman. Consequently, a new generation has emerged, known as the"sandwich generation." "In the typical Americanfamily, people in the 40 to 55 age range have children and theelderly to take care of at the same time," says Paul Hogan,who founded Home Instead Senior Care with his wife, Lori, in 1994."That's causing a strain."

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