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Boulder County agencies prepare for aging population

Colorado’s senior numbers are projected to grow 77 percent by 2030
By John Fryar Time-Call Staff Writer

Boulder County residents who are 65-and-older are projected to represent an even larger share of the county’s total population by the year 2030, says Colorado state demographer Elizabeth Garner.

In 2015, about 13 percent of the 218,174 people living in Boulder County were 65 or older, according to the State Demography Office. Of the 380,382 people that agency projects will be living in Boulder County in 2030, about 20 percent will be 65-plus, Garner said during a population-trends presentation to county staffers this week.

Statewide, and not just in Boulder County, Garner said, “We are aging, fast.”

She said the State Demography Office projects that by 2030, Colorado’s 65-and-older population will be 77 percent larger than it was in 2015, growing from 719,000 to 1.27 million.

Garner suggested that across the state, government agencies providing services, programs and other assistance for that growing population of seniors should be asking themselves: “Are we ready?”

Challenges and issues facing Boulder County and the rest of Colorado as its population ages, Garner said, include increased demands for long-term care workers, gerontologists, and doctors who will accept patients on Medicare.

According to September and October 2016 “Aging in Colorado” reports on the Demography Office’s website, one of the implications of the things the state agency has identified as a potential issue to keep an eye on will be meeting health care demands.

“The older population requires more health services, and this increase in spending creates growth within the health care industry,” the Demography Office said. “It will be important for the state, as well as individual communities, to ensure they can attract and retain a skilled work force to meet those demands.”

Another issue, the Demographer’s Office said in its online reports, will be keeping up with seniors’ housing needs.

“Housing preferences for the 65-plus depend greatly on age and disability, as well as proximity to health services and amenities, costs, transportation and family,” the office said. “If a community has a shortage of homes with accessibility features, or few public transportation options, it will have a hard time attracting and retaining the 65-plus population.”
After the state demographer’s Monday population-trends report, Boulder County Commissioner Deb Gardner said addressing the needs of “a big part of the population that’s aging ” is one of the “unique challenges” the county faces.

It’s a challenge that Boulder County and other local government and nonprofit aging-services agencies are already aware of, though, and have been “working on really hard,” said Gardner, the commissioners chairwoman.

Longmont Senior Services manager Michele Waite and Boulder County Area Agency on the Aging manager Sherry Leach noted that since 2006, a collaborative of local agencies has been following and updating a countywide strategic plan for addressing many of the challenges presented by the county’s aging population.

That “Age Well Boulder County” plan — available online at allagewell.com — includes goals for meeting such basic safety-net needs as housing, food, access to essential services and transportation.

The plan also covers such health and wellness and support for seniors who want to continue living in, and participating in, their local communities.

One of the issues the strategic plan and senior services workers try to address, Waite said, is “How can we support people to be where they want to be?”

Another issue, Waite said: “How can we support people who don’t have financial resources” to stay in their own homes if that’s what they want and are physically capable of doing, including people who do not have a support system of family, friends or neighbors?

Leach said local agencies need to plan for providing and funding services in the decades beyond 2030 — a year in which members of the post-World War II “baby boom” generation who were born in 1946 will be 84 years old, and baby boomers born in 1964 will have reached the age of 66.

That’s because they’ll soon be followed into senior-citizen status by the first group of “Gen X” — the generation of people born between 1965 and 1979 — and, eventually, “Millenials” born between 1980 and 1999.

“We really need to look at how to design service models that are effective and efficient for a long time,” Leach said, as well as figuring out “where we’ll get the money we need to provide those basic services.”

According to the State Demography Office, the 65-and-older age group is the only one of several age categories whose share of Boulder County’s population is expected to increase by 2030. Each of the other age groups’ shares of the total is expected to drop slightly.

Children age 17 and under, 20 percent of the county’s overall population in 2015, will comprise 18 percent of the population in 2030. People ages 18 to 24 will drop from 14 percent to 13 percent of the total.

Boulder County residents between the ages of 25 and 44 were 25 percent of the county’s population in 2015 and are forecast to be 24 percent by 2030. People ages 45 to 64 represented 28 percent of the county’s residents in 2015 and are expected to be 25 percent of the total in 2030.

John Fryar: 303-684-5211, jfryar@times-call.com or twitter.com/jfryartc

Time-Call Boulder County agencies prepare for aging population

A Housing Crisis for Seniors

SundayReview | THE NEW YORK TIMES, Sunday, January 29, 2017
Allison Arieff JAN. 28, 2017

Last fall, I had to take the car keys away from an elderly relative who lives alone. This intervention should have happened much earlier, but when the day came it was one of the more emotionally wrenching things I’ve ever done. “Don’t take my car away,” he pleaded. “Without my car I don’t have a life.”

The fear he expressed is one shared by many older Americans, who, overwhelmingly, live in places where car travel is a necessity. And that number is skyrocketing: The population aged 65 and over is expected to grow to 79 million from 48 million in the next 20 years, and by 2035, one in three American households will be headed by someone 65 or older (and 9.3 million of those will be one-person households like my relative’s). A report just out from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, “Projects and Implications for a Growing Population: Older Households 2015-2035 Housing,” reveals that this demographic shift will increase the need for affordable, safe housing that is well connected to services way beyond what current supply can meet.

My now-car-free relative is not the sort to sign up for one of those 55-plus communities promising sunshine, gardens and golf. Retirement was an eventuality that inspired in him not relief but dread. Fiercely independent, an old-school intellectual and, frankly, a bit of a loner, he insists on remaining in his suburban home (“I will die in this house” typically ends any conversation in which I suggest a move) — even if that home is slowly becoming a dangerous place for him to be in.

A new study from the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing, a nonprofit research group, shows that suburban areas surrounding the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States make up 79 percent of the population of those areas but accounted for 91 percent of population growth over the past 15 years (and three-quarters of people age 25 to 34 in these metro areas live in suburbs).

But suburban homes were originally designed, and for the most part still are, for young families — and for drivers. They are typically surrounded by other single-family houses. Lacking a fitter partner or a network of helpful neighbors and caring family members, older residents can end up feeling isolated, unable to do basic errands or keep up their property. Further, most suburbs are zoned to prevent any non-single-family housing from being built, whether multiunit projects or the seemingly benign granny flat.

We’ve got to change this paradigm.

Before she died, way too young, of breast cancer at 60, my mother used to say to me, only half-joking, “You promise you’re not going to put your mother in a home, are you?” She had vivid memories of her grandmother’s generally miserable experience at an old-age home.

Decades later, some progress has been made in rethinking these facilities (and they tend to be called “communities” now rather than “the home”), yet the unease about where one will end up as one ages is not at all unfounded. Better housing for older people exists at the lowest and the highest ends of the economic spectrum — for those who can afford luxury options and those who qualify for aid.

Really good options are limited, particularly for the middle class. A colleague of mine, bemoaning the lack of attention and care at his father’s pricey assisted-living center, put it this way: “It’s not like they’re worrying about cultivating repeat customers.”

Thoughtfully designed housing for older adults is not being created on a scale commensurate with the growing need. It’s not a market many architects or developers have embraced. Conversely, a disproportionate amount of attention has been focused on the presumed desires of millennials. We hear all the time that it’s that group that craves walkability, good transit and everything-at-their-doorstep amenities — and that only cities can provide it.

But what if these offerings weren’t exclusively urban? What if suburban communities could provide some of them? And what if more communities weren’t so keyed into specific demographics, maybe even aiming instead to serve multiple generations? Professionals are starting to pay attention, with some suggesting that the housing industry ditch the term “senior” altogether.

NORCs — naturally occurring retirement communities — are found most often in dense and vibrant cities like New York, and demonstrate how well cities can work for older people. But less than a quarter of older adults live in high-density areas, so demand is likely to increase for new housing options within existing suburbs and rural communities. While it wouldn’t be impossible for suburbs to morph into NORCs, it wouldn’t be easy. Zoning precludes a lot of the mixed-use (stores, restaurants, multifamily housing) that is required, as does Nimbyism (the “not in my backyard” syndrome). But we already have many of the tools for incremental transformation.

The social safety net that helped provide so much of what we’re talking about here has evaporated; it has to re-emerge in new ways. As I’ve observed over the years when writing about topics from communes to urban agriculture, much of this is so old-fashioned as to seem innovative.

New York University recently announced an initiative that matches students in need of housing with older people who have rooms to spare. Programs like Marin Villages, in Northern California, put together networks of volunteers to organize activities, cultivate community and supply rides and other services to seniors, though it does not offer housing.

Co-housing, if it can shed its 1960s hippie commune associations, which doesn’t square with how these communities operate today, is another path toward providing community and care for all ages. The homebuilder Lennar is offering houses with a range of floor plans to accommodate varied family stages and needs. De-stigmatizing housing for older people through good design, as architects like David Baker and Anne Fougeron are doing in California, is also heartening, as is Perkins Eastman’s recently released report on biophilic design in senior housing (in non-architect-speak, integrating nature into architecture).

Technology can be part of the solution, though not without some tweaks. I’ve been engaged in a slow-moving campaign to convince my newly nondriving relative of the safety, convenience and economic savings of using the car services Lyft and Uber, but the transition isn’t an easy one. Summoning these cars is a no-brainer for heavy users of smartphones, but for older people with declining vision and motor skills, it’s a puzzle. (Why is it nearly impossible to telephone one of these services? It shouldn’t be.)

On-demand delivery services (meals, groceries, medicine) can also help bridge the gap, with the caveat that receiving everything at your doorstep can increase isolation (that goes for all ages). Expect a slew of “smart” products to hit the marketplace soon, some actually smart (some probably really stupid) that include “time to take your medication” notification systems, wearables that deploy airbags in case of a fall or aid in walking and sitting.

The difficulties inside the home are significant, and homes themselves must evolve and adapt as their residents age. And again, there are existing fixes: universal design elements such as step-free entrances, single-floor living, under-counter appliances, and halls and doorways that accommodate wheelchairs. Many of these could be standard, yet, typically, they’re renovations done after the need for them arises.

Every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 people will reach age 65. That companies aren’t scrambling to exploit this market is not only unfortunate for their bottom line, but almost certainly treacherous, eventually, for all of us.


Allison Arieff is a writer on architecture and design and a contributing opinion writer.

Kaiser Family and AARP Foundations work to raise awareness about social isolation in older adults in a campaign to end social isolation.

Kaiser Family and AARP Foundations work to raise awareness about social isolation in older adults.
A campaign to end social isolation.

Across the nation, geriatricians and other health and social service providers are growing increasingly worried about loneliness among older adults. Their concerns are fueled by studies showing the emotional isolation is linked to serious health problems. The health threat is similar to that of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to AARP. Research shows older adults who feel lonely are at greater risk of memory loss, strokes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

NPR | Easing Old People’s Loneliness Can Help Keep Them Healthy

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