(USA Today) -- Packers, movers, decorators - and counselors.
That's how Michele Parchman and Sandy Nauta describe the philosophy behind their business, Senior Focused Relocations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Movers that specialize in seniors aim to smooth the way during one of the most trying times of life, when an elderly person either decides to move or is forced to move because they can no longer live alone or care for themselves.
As the ranks of the elderly soar in the USA, small businesses that cater to them, including movers, are thriving.
The number of local companies registered with the National Association of Senior Move Managers has grown from 30 to more than 800 since 2002, says the group, based in Hinsdale, Ill.Parchman and Nauta say the average age of their clients is 84.
The size of their staff has grown to 15 full-time employees since they opened five years ago.
"Moving for a senior can be very stressful,'' says Parchman. "We're not just packing and moving them. We are taking care of our clients and their emotions. We calm their fears. They ask us things like 'How am I going to get this accomplished?' 'What's it going to look like where I'm going?' 'What's going to happen to the things I leave behind?'"
When downsizing is needed, senior movers will arrange estate sales, locate and deliver items to storage facilities or arrange donations to charities.
Costs vary, according to Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of NASMM; the association requires owners to provide estimates to clients, but hourly rates range from $30 to $90 depending on where customers live.
A map on the organization's website lists members in the USA and Canada, with links to their websites and contact information.
One difficult-to-measure "family'' benefit, she says, is the lessened stress on adult children (who are often getting on in years themselves, work full time or live too far away) and grandchildren.
"Everyone in the family wins from this,'' Buysse says. "When a senior has lived in their home for 50 years, a move shouldn't end up being done on one weekend with a dumpster in the driveway. Now a family can be supportive during the move instead of being the bad cop saying, 'No, you can't take that with you.'"
Katherine Cunningham, 91, of Fort Worth, says she didn't want to burden her sons, both retired, when she made her first move in 50 years.
She downsized last week into an apartment about a third the size of her 2,700-square-foot home.
"This was going to be a full-time job, and it would have taken them a long time,'' Cunningham says. "I didn't want to interfere with their lives."
Plus, Cunningham says, Senior Focused Relocations didn't leave until she was happy.
She is "only 4-10,'' she says, and the company made sure everything in her new apartment was arranged on shelves or hung at heights she could reach.
"They thought of everything,'' she says.
She had worried about "giving up so many fond memories'' associated with her belongings, but the company drew a floor plan of her new apartment and helped her decide what she should take with her and where it would fit.
"That was really helpful,'' she says. "I didn't have to do anything but say, 'Put it there and there' when we got to my new home."
For her, seeing a favorite painting hung on her new walls was a heartwarming moment.
"One of the most important things to remember when an older parent moves to a new living arrangement is to make sure they have things that are meaningful,'' says Lynn Feinberg, AARP's caregiving expert.
"It's not just important to have mementos but something that is meaningful for them."Some objects are so precious because of their ties to the past - clothes of a deceased spouse and other intimate items - that family members lean on a "third party" to remove them, says Lynette Reynolds, a co-owner of At Your Service in Orlando, Fla.
"We recently helped move a widower who had been in his house for 50 years,'' Reynolds says. "His wife had been deceased for several years, and her fingernail polish was still on the nightside table on her side of the bed. It must have been comforting for him to leave it there. Something like that would be very hard for a family member to have to pick up and move."
Reynolds was a "godsend,'' says Dawn Schoettler of Binghamton, N.Y.
When Schoettler's mom, Rita Hopkins, who lives in Winter Park, Fla., shattered her ankle, Schoettler called At Your Service for help.
A social worker assigned to Hopkins recommended the company, Schoettler says.
"They found a retirement community for her to live in, when I couldn't be there,'' says Schoettler. "I never even met Lynette, but she took care of everything from packing her up, unpacking her, putting food in the refrigerator for her and hanging up her shower curtain."
The cost (about $700) was minuscule, says Schoettler, compared with what it would have cost her to take time off from work, travel to Florida several times and pay additional costs like renting a car.
Also, because Reynolds knows the area, she could recommend several retirement communities.
"Everything just worked out so well,'' says Schoettler. "She still checks in on Mom."