Summit County’s senior population expected to skyrocket over next 2 decades |

Summit County’s senior population expected to skyrocket over next 2 decades

Caddie Nath
summit daily news

VAIL – Summit County’s population of adults aged 65 and over is projected to grow more than 250 percent over the next 20 years, the biggest projected increase in the state, according to state demography officials.

“It’s not negative and it’s not positive,” state demographer Elizabeth Garner said of the expected trend, which will likely impact several counties nearby to varying degrees. “It’s just different.”

But, with the majority of adults who responded to an AARP survey indicating they want to “age in place,” or stay in their current location as they grow older, Summit County and its neighbors need to begin preparing for the “age wave,” soon, officials said.

That was the focus of a conference the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments hosted in Vail Thursday, which brought together local and state officials and experts on seniors, their needs and their impacts on the communities where they live.

“We’re trying to identify different ways to provide services to seniors through the community and senior center,” assistant county manager Scott Vargo said. “We’re very aware of what’s happening.”

The county is currently primarily in “observation mode,” watching the steps Eagle County is taking to prepare for significant increases in its elderly population, but local officials are exploring possible programs to aid seniors.

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The effort, being led by a senior task force, may include meal services for seniors as well as possible affordable senior- living options developed through a private company.

The county is looking at the possibility of a tax-financing arrangement, by which a private entity would develop what would likely be apartment-style housing designed for seniors and get some sort of tax incentive for doing so, Vargo said.

Meanwhile, regional and national experts are calling for more to be done. More communities and more houses need to be constructed with the needs of current and future needs of seniors in mind, Dr. Rodney Harrell, of the AARP Public Policy Institute in Washington D.C. argued at Thursday’s conference. Since, according to AARP surveys, many adults hope to grow old in their current homes, Harrell suggested implementing incentive programs or even mandates to ensure new houses, at the very least, do not have steps leading to the front door, have wider doors to allow wheelchair access and have reinforced bathroom walls to allow for later installation of handle bars.

“It resonated pretty highly with what future development should look like,” Summit Combined Housing Authority director Jennifer Kermode said of the features Harrell suggested. “(It makes sense) when we’re building, to plan for people staying there long term. It’s part of the whole sustainability thing.”

Currently, seniors make up a smaller percentage of Summit County’s total population than they do in the state or the country’s total populations, but that is changing quickly.

Between the 2000 and 2010 census counts, the number of adults over the age of 65 living in Summit and Eagle counties grew by more than 100 percent, some of the fastest growth rates in the state. It is a trend that is expected to continue for the next 20 years as local residents in their 40s and 50s get older.

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