By Alan Gionet
GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4) – Golden seems a good place to visit in those golden years. Mitzi White recently retired and returned to Colorado to live after being away for four decades. She had a lot to think about.

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“As a single person it was how do I find community?”
She’s spent a fair about of time considering what she’d need and whether some day being unable to drive will be a problem. Colorado has a lot of issues to look at.
“Especially for health care, that’s a huge issue. It’s not just doctors and nurses, it is also the technicians. Who are the home health care people,” said White.

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Gov. Jared Polis signed two bills Tuesday to help increase the number of health care providers who provide geriatric care and create a grant program to expand access to critical services. But it’s just a small amount of what’s likely needed in the years ahead.
Colorado has the second fastest growing population of people over 60 in the nation. There are only 89 geriatricians in the state for a current population of 1.3 million Coloradans over 60. One of the bills offers $400,000 in loan forgiveness next year for medical providers who are willing to practice geriatrics in underserved communities.
The state expects a lot of growth in its older population. In ten years, Colorado expects 39% growth in the population over 60.
“By 2040 about one in four are going to be over 60. We’ve never had that before ever,” said Jayla Sanchez-Warren, director of the Area Agency on Aging for the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

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That brings up a long list of issues for that aging population. Financial issues, housing and food are all big. One man who retired 20 years ago recently told Sanchez-Warren he had been to the doctor and was told he’d probably live about another fifteen years.
“Problem is, I don’t have the money, I can’t live that long, I don’t have the money to live that long,” she said he told her.
It’s not only medical professionals Colorado lacks, but support even for people helping seniors.

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“We need to support those caregivers too because we don’t have those family caregivers, those informal caregivers. We don’t have enough caregivers that are professional to take care of this burgeoning population.”
Other shortages will be affected by the increasing population of people with some form of dementia, said Kelly Osthoff, senior director of programs for the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Age is the number one risk factor for dementia.”
Osthoff points out that in 2020, Colorado had 76,000 people in Colorado living with dementia. “That number will go up to 92,000 by 2025, a 21% change.”
Services, care and support for family are all falling behind.

“Housing is going to be an issue, affordable, accessible housing. Ones without stairs,” said Sanchez-Warren. “We have a lot of homes built in the 70s, not so great for people who are 70.”

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Some are having a difficult time now due to rising rents no longer affordable on Social Security payments. Some are ending up homeless, or going into nursing homes, where care is paid by Medicare, but it is thousands more a month than rent would be.

“If you don’t have the financial resources, if you don’t have family resources, if you have a lot of different health problems. Aging gets really hard,” said Sanchez-Warren. The list of things adds up quickly. “Little things that we often don’t think about. House cleaning, bill paying, and then all the caregiver support.”

Then later in life, giving up driving can be very challenging. Men outlive their driving years by seven years says Sanchez-Warren; women by 10.

“How do you live your life the way you want to if you can’t drive?”

Even though she just retired, it is a concern for White.

“Continually in the back of my mind is about transportation,” White said.

“Helping people go to the doctor, helping people go to the grocery store but also helping people live,” said Sanchez-Warren. “Go visit their loved one in a nursing home, go to a beauty salon, get their hair done, whatever. That’s part of life. If you can’t do that and you’re always at home that’s not a good quality of life.”

The good news she says is that there is a segment of the economy developing to serve the aging population. It’s been dubbed the longevity economy.

Companies are working or producing robots to help people at home. More and more are using devices like Alexa that can take simple commands. They may help, but human contact is irreplaceable. While Colorado and America are falling behind in getting ready getting older can still enjoy what is most important; life itself.

“Aging is an honor. Not everybody gets to age,” says Sanchez-Warren.

SECTION: Aging Colorado

Alan Gionet