Offering a Symphony of Services for Seniors Who Want to Age in Place
Jim Bland is a special kind of conductor. Instead of directing the simultaneous performance of several players to bring a musical score to life, he is a multi-talented maestro who’s company provides innovative in-home fall prevention technologies and works with expert building contractors and financial specialists to help bring happiness and harmony to the lives of older Americans who want to continue living safely and comfortably in their own homes.*
His official title is founder and president of Annapolis, Maryland-based Senior Home Services, Inc. He is also a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), a designation issued by the National Association of Home Builders, and an executive council member of the HomesRenewed Coalition, an organization that drives and delivers market-based solutions to improve housing for older Americans.
“Roughly 90% of all seniors would prefer to stay in their own homes,” said Bland, his statement supported by numerous studies confirming seniors’ overwhelming desire to age in place.* 1
*With a reverse mortgage, the right to remain in the home is contingent on paying property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, and complying with the loan terms
Yet that desire, he added, is literally tripped too often by the reality that most homes were not built for the challenges that many seniors typically face, such as navigating stairs, narrow hallways, and climb-in bathtubs. As a result, falling in the home is the number one cause of injuries and death from injury among older Americans, with 80% of all older adult falls taking place in the bathroom.2
“The fall is what changes everything,” Jim said. That’s why he is literally working to get older Americans back on their feet, and better yet, to prevent their falling in the first place.
As a result, Jim has gone into full conductor mode the past couple of years, organizing, advocating and connecting with organizations like VGM and Associates, Home Healthcare Agencies, Home Care Companies, and AAG — and the vast resources and aging-in-place experience they can marshal — to help seniors continue living safely, securely, and independently in their own homes.* His efforts have provided sweet music to the ears of seniors and peace of mind for family members.
For Jim, helping seniors live at home with dignity is more than a profession, it’s a calling and an issue that has hit home with him more than once. When his father was living alone and facing health issues, he supervised his care, and again, when his neighbor was hospitalized with cancer, he helped her transition to in-home care.
As an aging-in-place expert, his company’s experts are certainly well adept at conducting room-by-room inspections of seniors’ homes to identify potentially hazardous conditions and recommend modifications, with approximate costs, to make them safer and more accommodating. Especially through his affiliation with VGM, his company utilizes a nationwide network of specially certified accessibility contractors who can perform the needed work.
At the same time, Jim has been able to tap into and access all kinds of technology innovations unimaginable a few years ago, which can provide even greater benefits for seniors and their caregivers.*
One such service installs non-camera in-home sensors, connected to software and artificial intelligence, which learn seniors’ daily routines and can detect falls in the home, unusual activity, and other emergency situations. The non-camera sensor system includes 24/7 monitoring of daily routines of sleeping, bathing, cooking, and other regular activities, which automatically trigger a call or check-up if that movement, or lack of, falls outside the norm.
“It’s an affordable and phenomenal service that gives the family tremendous peace of mind,” Jim said. “Mom is never really alone, yet she retains her privacy and independence.”
Another ground-breaking service with which his company is affiliated is Zing Performance, a customized online in-home technology and coaching service that helps seniors improve their cognitive, memory, and balance skills, which often decline with a loss of activity or stimulation.
With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping more seniors confined to their homes, his company also offers a portable in-home, state-of-the-art air purification system that produces molecules that, in just 3 minutes, destroy the airborne SARS-CoV-2 virus (the one that causes Covid-19), filter out dust mites, mold and mildew, and volatile organic compounds or VOCs that can exasperate the health conditions of seniors suffering from COPD, diabetes, and other diseases.
“It’s a purification system backed by FDA laboratory testing, used by NASA and the Cleveland Clinic, and features a 30-day unconditional satisfaction guarantee,” Jim said.
Creating financing solutions
Because purchasing a $1,000 air purification system or a bath remodel costs a great deal more than adding handrails to a bathtub, his company has partnered with companies like AAG, which offer a wide range of home financing solutions, including reverse mortgages, which make it possible for seniors to use some of their home wealth for immediate home improvements or keep as a line of credit for financing as-needed home upgrades.
Although his company’s phones usually ring most in reactive situations — dad fell and was hospitalized but will now be back home in a few days where he’ll require a full range of home modifications and in-home care — he is doing all he can to get the word out that seniors, even those in the best of health, should think proactively about their long time, age-in-place needs.
To move the needle, Jim sometimes tries to get seniors and their families to view the situation from a purely selfish point of view, having them reflect on the potential home value appreciation, real estate commissions, and other costs they could save by not selling their home before they need to and let their asset potentially keep appreciating in value. Similarly, if a loved one has to move to an assisted living facility, they can anticipate costs that can easily range from $5,000 to $10,000 or more a month, according to Jim.
“That eats up a lot of home equity real fast,” Jim explained. “An aging-in-place investment with AAG financing can allow a senior to remain at home three, five, 10 years, or longer and maybe forever which saves so much money! Plus, so many of the modifications will improve the salability and value of the home.”
Like any mortgage, reverse mortgage borrowers should be fully aware that they remain responsible for maintaining their home, paying property taxes and homeowners insurance, and otherwise complying with all loan terms. If not, they could be in default and their home could enter foreclosure.
Incorporating Universal Design
His company is also mindful that many older homeowners don’t identify with their age. They feel youthful and healthful and want to steer clear of ramps, stair lifts, and other age-in-place aids often associated with frailty and infirmity, even if they would directly benefit from their installation.
After seeing the latest Universal Design options available from his company, however, that thinking often goes away.
“Modifications done tastefully, and the right way can add value and marketability to your home,” Jim said.
These enhancements often occur under the umbrella of “universal design,” where the design of buildings, products or environments are made accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability, or other factors. For example, a zero-threshold shower with a fold-down seat and grab-bars may replace a climb-over tub, making the bathroom not only safer but more universally and visually appealing to a broad audience.
“It’s the art of making the home more accessible for someone with a mobility challenge, but nobody can tell,” Jim explained. “It doesn’t have the stigma of an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) home. People feel great about the utility of their home, and the monetary and resale value they’ve added to it.”
Jim is the first to recognize that serving seniors is a specialized field. It’s an opportunity for providers and networkers like him and his company to do good and live with purpose and help older Americans fulfill theirs as well.
Like the outstanding leader of an orchestra, Jim never stops learning and innovating. He’s constantly looking for ways to heighten his company’s performance and add new notes to his repertoire of skills and services so older Americans can enjoy the full symphony of lives well lived.