THE GOLDEN YEARS

by LIESEL SCHMIDT / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

AS WE ENTER THE LATER YEARS of our lives, there are certain things that we can no longer manage. Things become harder to lift, range of motion becomes limited, hearing and eyesight weakens, and cognitive function often declines. These all challenge our way of life, and so we must consider the question: Can we still live safely in our own homes, or should we move into a retirement community?

Fortunately, there are steps to ensure that “aging in place” at home is made as safe as possible, but it often requires the help of an expert to recognize the ways that a house can be changed or updated.

Using her own knowledge to create a company focused on precisely that, Aging in Place specialist Wanda Gozdz has become widely known as an authority in the field. Her work has helped countless clients remain in their homes as they reach their later years.

Gozdz’s career background in organization uniquely positioned her to launch the business. She was able to recognize the importance of organization and strategic changes to a home environment that come with getting older when she—a baby boomer—downsized from a home and moved into a condominium at her sons’ encouragement. The change in living situation was a light bulb moment—a prompt that led her to establish Golden Age Living in 2007 and offer not only services for adapting her clients’ living environments to their needs as aging adults, but also organization of important personal, financial and medical information so that vital materials were safely and conveniently stored and easy to access when needed.

“The mission of the company is to empower those over the age of 40 to live independent, quality lives in their homes and work environments, and emphasize sustainable design,” says Gozdz. “My goal is real ly twofold—to inform consumers as they age on how to adapt their homes to their changing lifestyles and to educate professionals who serve the senior market on how to help clients and their families to age in place.”

From another personal standpoint, Gozdz’s mother’s determination to stay in her home and age in place served as confirmation that the need for specialized services was indeed a viable reason to launch. Driven by the inspiration to meet the needs of aging individuals and provide them with the tools they needed, Gozdz pursued a degree in interior design and became a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) so that she would be fully equipped to establish a company with a level of expertise and excellence that were above reproach.

The services of Golden Age Living are indeed impressive, offering on-site walk-throughs to assess various ways that a property can be adapted to ensure ease of navigation, safety and functionality. The Personal Information Management Division tackles the issue of organizing and digitally storing vital information, as well as personal memorabilia, such as photographs, and storing such data as insurance and financial information, medical records and legal documents on an encrypted flash drive. No stone is left unturned, as Gozdz remains laser-focused on being a full-service company that understands every aspect of aging in place.

Hardly a woman to stop building her knowledge and then empowering others with what she has learned, she is now a master instructor for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a celebrated expert on Aging in Place and Universal Design. Building on that proficiency, one of the cornerstones of Golden Age Living has become her courses for training and educating families and professionals serving the aging in place market, including interior designers, homebuilders and remodelers, occupational therapists, medical equipment specialists and health-care workers. In 2014, Gozdz was named “CAPS Educator of the Year” by the NAHB. Her courses are provided nationally and internationally, and she provides seminars to the public and customizes continuing education courses for professionals.

Sought after on both the national and international level, Gozdz has contributed to various books, authored articles and written her own book, Sensible Smart Tips for Living in Your Forever Home, in which she offers her hard-earned advice on wise ways to adapt to entering life in the later years. She has also received numerous awards and accolades, including the 2013 Laurel Award for Residential Construction Less Than 10,000 Feet from the Green Building & Remodelers Council of Florida’s Treasure Coast Builders Association (TCBA). The award was for her collaborative work with Karen Kane of Karen Kane Interiors on the lobby at Hibiscus by the Sea on Hutchinson Island. In addition, Gozdz ranks in the top 25 women business owners in e-commerce and notably received the Golden Mouse Award for Digital Devices from Women in Ecommerce after developing an encrypted flash drive for the storage of confidential information—a creation that plays deeply into the informational storage services offered to clients.

Gozdz has served on the Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design and is on the advisory committee of Indian River State College, Interior Design & Technology Department. She is also a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), the International Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), the Association of Aging in America (AIA) and the Builders Association of South Florida (BASF), and she serves as Trustee 55+ Council at the NAHB. Impressive as those might be, however, nothing is as powerful as what truly drives her: The desire to educate her clients and to make their dreams of designing safe living environments a reality. *

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Liesel Schmidt lives in Navarre, Florida, and works as a freelance writer for local and regional magazines. She is also a web content writer and book editor. Follow her on Twitter at @laswrites or download her novels, Coming Home to You, The Secret of Us and Life Without You, at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.