Los Altos resident develops Web Site to help adult children address and manage difficult subjects with aging parents
When Los Altos resident Andy Cohen’s mother developed lung cancer in 2006, he turned to the Internet to help manage her illness long distance.
Individual Web sites exist for topics such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer or Medicare, but Cohen found there was no "one-stop shop" that had all the answers the Chicago native wanted.
Like many baby boomers caring for aging parents, Cohen needed information about navigating the Medicare system, researching a reverse home mortgage and initiating durable medical powers of attorney. His mother passed away in Chicago in September 2006, only six months after her diagnosis.
Friends suggested he write a book about his experience, but Cohen, who has a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and who ran Intuit Inc.’s Quicken.com portal, decided to do what he does best.
Cohen created Caring.com with $750,000 in seed money from DCM, Doll Capital Management, of Menlo Park to help the estimated 3.5 million baby boomers caring for their parents. He became CEO, working out of his Los Altos living room, and hired Jim Scott to edit the site and Steve Fram to serve as chief technical officer.
Caring.com hit a nerve. The site offers expert advice, blogs and articles on legal, financial, housing, health and daily care topics.
After its launch in February 2007, Caring.com attracted unsolicited publicity from "Fox and Friends," USA Today, CNET and Reuters Health. Most reporters praised the site for saving boomers time and money. The site’s success led to an infusion of $6 million from Split Rock Partners of Minneapolis, Minn., and DCM venture capitalists in July 2007.
In May, a record 100,000 visitors visited Caring.com.
"There’s a huge need for this site," Cohen said. "It’s an awful time. You’ve got your own job and family, and it’s lonely."
At 44, Cohen was "ahead of my time in dealing" with the death of a parent, which he said made his situation even more depressing. The estimated 79 million U.S. baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1963.
Cohen used his own experience to craft the site’s content. There were many things he wished he had known before, including statistics that indicate how long lung cancer patients can survive. Had he known his mother’s time was so short — six months — Cohen may have visited her more often before she passed away. Instead, he said he listened to optimistic doctors who promised to prolong his mother’s life. He said he also would have followed psychologists’ advice to record parents’ memories or even recipes.
Caring.com writers provide emotional support by helping adult children of aging parents address difficult subjects. Recently, Caring.com tackled the issue of how to talk to an aging parent who should give up driving.
"Most people are more comfortable talking to their parents about their funerals than about (giving up) driving," Cohen said.
Kathleen Demosthenes, 64, of Sunnyvale said Caring.com helps her cope "in a positive way" with her 90-year-old mother’s dementia. She said the Web site has taught her how to handle her mom, an intelligent woman and artist, who sometimes exhibits violent behavior. It offers advice that "you just don’t get from doctors," who have little time for questions or just want to "drug seniors up," she said.
Demosthenes particularly likes reading the e-mails and finding out what other adult children do in similar situations. She uses the tips to keep her mom active in her Cupertino assisted-living home. A recent description of an elder cottage house that can be built in a backyard appealed to her.
"That’s the kind of thing you find on Caring.com that you don’t get anywhere else," she said.
Despite his own strong economic and professional background at Intuit and as a former vice president of marketing at Peapod, Cohen said he made many costly legal and financial mistakes in the process of tending to his mother. He hopes to help others avoid similar pitfalls.
Caring.com employs 20 people and consults with a panel of 60 experts, many of whom care for aging parents. Authorities like Dr. Peter Pompei, associate director of the internal medicine residency program and associate professor of medicine at Stanford Hospital, help generate ideas. Pompei said the site is a boon to doctors because it "unburdens them from the need to provide information."
Pompei said he often talks to demanding baby boomers with "high expectations" who want to know what social services are available for their parents. Now he steers them to Caring.com.
While boomers have higher expectations for the care of their aging parents, Pompei noted that doctors often have "lower expectations for the outcome of older individuals."
This could lead to overprescribing drugs, and Cohen said he often receives e-mail queries about how to handle drug and alcohol addiction in aging parents.
Pompei also has firsthand experience with an aging parent. His mother, widowed in 1995, moved to Los Altos from Chicago in her 80s. She passed away at 90, but she gave up driving much sooner than that and depended on Pompei and his wife to drive her around.
"You’re isolated, and you don’t have the independence you’re used to," said Pompei, who added that the loss of independence, memory and physical functioning contributes to depression in seniors.
The site reviews gadgets to keep the elderly independent, such as the E-Neighbor system, which alerts a caregiver if a refrigerator door is unopened for a day or if a shower runs too long.
Los Altos Hills resident Katie Roper, vice president of sales for Caring.com and a Town Crier contributor, solicits advertisers who sell "everything from very explicitly senior products, like walkers and hearing aids, to … health and wellness products."
While the needs of brides and expectant parents are met via a plethora of Web sites, there are no other comprehensive sites devoted to helping adult children with aging parents.
"The competitive landscape is pretty thin," said Tom Blaisdell, a partner in DCM, a venture capital firm that specializes in early-stage technology startups.
Cohen convinced Blaisdell to consider investing in Caring.com over coffee at the now-closed Los Altos Coffee Shop.
Blaisdell, who knew Cohen when both worked at Intuit, signed on to the project because forecasters predict baby boomers could be caring for aging parents for as long as a decade. His partners found the niche compelling and especially "loved the mission-based aspect of the project, which has also made recruiting top talent much easier," Blaisdell said.
The average life expectancy is 78 years for men, 80 years for women. Compared to life expectancies at the beginning of the 20th century — 40 and 50, respectively — the prolonged years mean more and more baby boomers will care for parents, many of whom could be living far away. Blaisdell said he sees global promise in the site, and hopes to start one in China, where only children are often responsible for four parents.
Nationally, Cohen said he foresees refining the site so that boomers will be able to find local resources.
For more information, visit www.caring.com.