It’ll Be Tough Growing Old in the West

Did you know there is no state or federal mandates about senior citizen community benefits such as special transportation, discounted meal services or even senior centers? Each community and county decides how they want to care for their aging residents.

Many Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, have settled on Colorado’s Western Slope since the 1970’s or recently bought second homes. Most will plan to retire there.

As these Baby Boomers grow older, will communities on the Western Slope be able to keep up with senior services, senior assisted living and nursing home needs?

One state official warns: it could be tough growing old in the West.Jim Westkott, a senior demographer for the State Demography Office, was asked to look into the crystal ball about aging on the Western Slope specifically in Garfield County located about 200 miles west of Denver on I-70.

The county is considering taking on the senior programs since Colorado Mountain College will no longer be hosting the services.

“The West didn’t start really growing until after World War II,” Westkott related to the Garfield County Commissioners on Monday. “One of the biggest influxes was in the 1970’s when Boomers started to move out here to ski.”

Colorado’s population has grown almost three times faster than normal since then, according to Westkott. Even today, Colorado’s industrial growth has attracted middle-aged managers into the state. And it’s hard to predict how many Baby Boomers will decide to retire in Colorado and on the Western Slope from other areas of the nation.

Baby Boomers have a large hand in the housing problems on the Western Slope because of the influx of second home building. Westkott said that has helped inflate housing prices forcing younger families out of the area.

Westkott predicts the senior population on the Western Slope and specifically in Garfield County will grow much faster than state and national averages. 

“Will the resources be available to assist this aging population?” questioned Westkott. “Plus, we’re talking about a several decades-long trend of increased demands on senior services.”

Some of those aging trends on the Western Slope and Colorado include:

1. Baby Boomers will remain active, so they will exert political pressure to build more bike trails, community centers and other amenities.

2. Housing requirements will shift. The large resort homes may be turned into senior housing co-ops or be occupied by multi-generations as families move in to take care of their aging parents.

3. Communities will need to start seriously planning for more assisted senior housing and nursing homes.

“Baby Boomers are going to shift from being a work force to becoming an industry,” Westkott predicted, “Especially in medical care.”

Garfield County is in a unique Western Slope region that also includes LaPlata, Montrose, Delta and Mesa Counties — they face the anomaly with tourism as an important economic driver competing with the energy industry and second home development.

“It’s going to be hard to get the attention of local governments about increasing their support to senior programs when there is so many other issues diverting their attention,” Westkott noted. “Baby Boomers will need to plan ahead before they overwhelm local government and medical services.”

Some Baby Boomer stats from the US Census:

78.2 million
Estimated number of baby boomers, as of July 1, 2005.

Number of people turning 60 each day in 2006, according to projections. That amounts to 330 every hour.

Percentage of women baby boomers in 2005.

9.1 million
Estimated number of baby boomers in 2004 who were black. Also, 8.0 million boomers were Hispanic (of any race).

The Future — $2,695
Average annual expenditures on health care in 2004 for people ages 45 to 54 – the age group that is the heart of the baby boom generation. When budgeting medical expenses, baby boomers should expect increased health-care spending as they age; for instance, those age 55 to 64 spent $3,262 and those 65 and over, $3,899.
(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

57.8 million
Number of baby boomers living in 2030, according to projections; 54.9 percent would be female. That year, boomers would be between ages 66 and 84.

The number of workers for each Social Security beneficiary in 2031, when all baby boomers will be over age 65. Currently, there are 3.3 workers for each Social Security beneficiary. (Source: Social Security Administration)

Number of continuing care retirement facilities in 2003. Many boomers could have parents in need of such facilities or may have to move into such a facility themselves in the future.