Rapidly aging population in Jefferson County poses challenges

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By Deborah Swearingen

Editor’s note: The growing number of people age 65 and over in Jefferson County ultimately will require more services from government, nonprofit agencies and the individuals who serve as caretakers for our senior citizens. This story looks at the demographic shift in Jeffco and Colorado; stories in a future special section will examine the challenges ahead and profile some of the county’s seniors.

As the senior population grows in Jefferson County, local organizations, community members and government agencies hope to assemble a plan of action to help seniors, the agencies that serve them and their caretakers.

Jeffco, home to the largest population of people over age 65 in Colorado, is tasked with finding solutions for affordable housing, health care, transportation and more in preparation for what is referred to by many as the “silver tsunami.”

Some 85,172 of Jeffco’s 565,230 residents are age 65 or older, according to the state demographer’s office.

In Colorado, this age group is expected to double in size over the next 15 years. Between 2016 and 2030, the state’s 65-plus population will grow by 68 percent, with some regions seeing growth rates as high as 131 percent, according to population forecasts from the state demographer’s office.

The increase in Jeffco’s senior population ranked third in the state from 2014 to 2015, as the county added 3,400 people 65 and over. But when analyzing the percentage growth, Jeffco falls tremendously, said state demographer Elizabeth Garner.

Because of its large overall population and longstanding older demographic, the county has seen only 4 percent growth in the population of seniors, as compared to 8 percent in counties such as San Miguel, Douglas and Broomfield.

“The reason why it’s so big in some of those counties is that they’ve really never had a lot of older people,” Garner said. “Jefferson (County)’s always had a much older population.”

In any case, the aging trend in Jeffco and across the state will have far-reaching effects for many Coloradans.

“Indeed, Colorado stands at the edge of a demographic shift that will redefine it for generations to come,” reads a strategic plan created by the Colorado Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging.

The panel, appointed in 2015 by Gov. John Hickenlooper, was tasked with examining the impacts of the aging demographic on the economy, state and local revenue budgets, Medicaid and other safety-net programs, caregiving, transportation and infrastructure, and more.

“… We’re charged with creating a 15-year comprehensive strategic action plan on aging for the state of Colorado,” said Karen Brown, a member of the panel.

The initial report from the Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging cites the state demographer’s office in saying that the state is still years away from feeling the full economic implications of its aging population. But “it’s important that we take the time to look ahead and understand the changes that are taking place.”

While the panel works to identify many of the issues the state soon will face, Brown noted that the 23-member group has been busy for the past year — and there is a lot left to be done.

“I think part of the challenge has been that we’re covering a very broad area,” she said. “So we’re looking at housing, transportation. We’re looking at community support, so that means caregiving, long-term support services like assisted-living facilities. We’re looking at workforce development. We’re looking at how to finance it all.”

The strategic planning group hopes state lawmakers will act on its recommendations in the years 2017 to 2022, while the group continues to develop solutions.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at 303-350-1042 or dswearingen@evergreenco.com. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.