DENVER – When Christina Knoell was younger, the last thing she was thinking about was aging. She was preoccupied raising children.
Now, at 46, the executive director of the San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging says the topic consumes a huge chunk of her time. She sees the impact a carefree approach to aging is having on the state and the nation.
An aging baby boomer population is finally starting to worry about where they will live and play in the golden years of their life.
“We have to prepare for the needs of the baby boomers, the Silver Tsunami. It’s going to be very different than someone that is 82 right now,” Knoell said.
The so-called Silver Tsunami refers to the population of aging boomers, which is expected to double the retirement-age population by 2030.
Hardest hit will be the Front Range and Western Slope resort communities.
Between 2000 and 2010, Colorado’s population of those 65 and older grew by 32 percent, compared with the state’s total population, which grew by 17 percent.
Aging boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, is forecast to increase the population of those older than 65 by 123 percent between 2010 and 2030. By 2030, Colorado’s older population will reach more than 1.2 million, compared with 550,000 in 2010, which would represent 18.5 percent of the state’s total population.
Between 2010 and 2020, 155 people will turn 65 every day in Colorado.
Between 2000 and 2010, La Plata County saw its population of those older than 65 grow by 45 percent. Between 2010 and 2020, that population is expected to jump by 90 percent, and between 2020 and 2030 by 39 percent. The growth rate is expected to slow to 16 percent between 2030 to 2040.
The Legislature is aware of the problem. Last year, it created the Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging, which is studying how best to manage the impact of the demographic shift.
A report from the task force is expected to be presented to the Legislature and the governor’s office by the end of November.
“There just hasn’t been a real continuity of effort around the state to monitor the issue and see how it’s progressing,” said Dave Norman, a member of the task force and director of the Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Colorado.
He added: “Everything has been studied and talked about. Now, we’re going to have to come up with a plan here and make some recommendations for priorities and follow through.”
The task force is examining improving government services, how to assist nonprofits and the private sector, ensuring funding and creating an educational campaign to improve preparedness.
“The old aging pyramid, where you have fewer aging people, more younger people at the bottom of the pyramid, is gone,” Norman said.
A struggle will be helping older people “age in place,” or the ability to live in one’s own home safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age and income. Nearly 90 percent of those older than 65 want to stay in their residence as long as possible. Eighty percent believe they will always live at home.
But a lack of transportation and affordable housing could curtail that desire.
There’s also economic factors to consider, as an estimated 346,000 jobs will be supported through retiree spending by 2030.
An issue leaders are trying to address is a misunderstanding about how Medicare takes care of seniors. It does not cover long-term home care, or most medical equipment. Eyeglasses and dental care is also rarely covered.
For poor people, turning 65 means they are forced from Medicaid into Medicare, which means benefits they enjoyed under Medicaid go away.
“That’s a real bummer,” Knoell said. “That’s not really exciting when I’m going into my golden years.”
She added that tradespeople often feel the pinch the worst.
“Look at all those people that built our communities with their backs, sweat, tears and blood. What do we offer those people? They have nothing. They’ve been self-employed. That population I worry about the most,” Knoell said.
As with any government service, the solution is going to take money. Knoell and others are working to save tax dollars through programs such as the San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging.
By keeping seniors healthy and in their homes as long as possible, taxpayers save money on subsidizing nursing home stays, which can cost between $60,000 and $90,000 per year.
“That’s our biggest challenge, is how to track outcomes; how to prove we’re saving taxpayers’ money,” Knoell said.
Norman pointed out that over the next several years, the number of people available in families and neighborhoods to help care for a person older than 80 will drop significantly.
Studies suggest that over the next 20 years, the ratio of caregivers to clients will drop from seven potential caregivers for every person over 80 to four for every person over 80.
“We can really make some progress,” he said. “It’s a ground up approach that’s occurring, and so we’re trying to get ahead of that and make some recommendations.”