Local economist Tucker Hart Adams recently wrote, “If you live long enough, you will get old.”
El Paso County is aging faster than most Colorado counties. Its fast-growing population of people over 65 brings challenges to the community, and opportunities, said Adams, partner at Summit Economics and author of the report, “Aging in El Paso County.”
New businesses will spark up around this baby boomer population, which is expected to be 82,546 in three years. Existing businesses will expand services to meet the needs of the boomers, which is one of the wealthiest generations in the nation’s history.
One thing is certain, the business of aging in El Paso County will boom.
“We have two-and-a-half times the national average of boomers retiring here,” said Shannon Rogers, Senior Resource Council executive director. “Your business will be affected, no matter what your business is, and you had better figure out how to approach this market.”
Economists and those in the business of serving senior citizens have been projecting the “senior tsunami” for several years now. But it seems that the nation is just waking up to the numbers: 78 million baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964. That’s roughly 26 percent of the U.S. population.
A close look at the baby boomers shows their influence in the market place on everything from baby food to fast food to home-buying trends. For example, Colorado boomers had a love affair with condominiums in the 1970s and then dropped them like a hot potato in the 1980s and 90s for houses in the suburbs, leaving the condo market high and dry, Adams said. Every time a boomer trend, like home-buying patterns, is identified, the general reaction is surprise.
“This time, let’s not be surprised,” Adams said.
The Innovation in Aging Collaborative, funded by the Inasmuch Foundation, started ringing the bell aging in El Paso County in 2008 when it called for strategic planning to prepare for a larger and longer living population.
There will be issues of affordable housing, public transportation, health services and personal services. The business community, Adams said, ought to be ready.
“We often forget that retirees are a basic industry,” Adams said. “A basic industry is one that brings new dollars into a community.”
The 150 Colorado Springs business members of the Senior Resource Council see the value in targeting services to seniors, Rogers said. The SRC works to educate businesses on the needs of the seniors and networks the businesses with one another.
It’s a mystery to Rogers why many businesses are reluctant to go after the boomers. Baby boomers have spending power, she said.
Consumer spending by the 55 and older group is rising faster than any other group, Rogers said. In 2009, households of 55 and older spent $7.6 billion on children’s items showing that marketing efforts ought to be directed to grandparents. Yet, 95 percent of all marketing targets 55 and younger, she said.
“We have the opportunity to get entrepreneurs here in the aging business,” Rogers said.
The senior tsunami has another component: longer life expectancy. Prior to the 1930s, life expectancy was 60, Adams said. Baby boomers who reached 65 in 2011 will live another 18 years. Today, there are 5.7 million Americans over age 85 and that is expected to grow to 19 million by 2050.
Randee VanNess, director of the Colorado Springs Wellness Restoration and Brain Centers, wants to ensure that people remember their lives. She has a growing business helping people with memory loss caused by any form of dementia.
VanNess had been working with seniors on nutrition, to get them healthy and off the medications prescribed for type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. She found that she would help seniors make nutritional changes, only for them to end up with memory loss issues.
“We would get them better physically just to condemn them to 20 years of sitting in a corner somewhere,” she said. “Memory loss has always been dealt with, here’s your pills, go away, go fade away.”
She combined her nutrition program with brain development therapy and opened her Brain Centers last August. With no advertising, the clients are finding her.
Her staff of 14 has built a business helping seniors rebuild the brain’s memories through cutting edge techniques that include using synchronized whole body exercises performed to a precise computer-generated beat and other brain games.
About 60 percent of the Brain Centers’ clients are children who have a traumatic brain injury and about 40 percent of her clients are adults; of those, 90 percent are working on memory issues, she said. Business is growing so much, that this summer she will expand her 4,000-square-foot clinic to 8,000-square-feet and hire more staff.
“We will double our size so we can treat more,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is that seniors be functioning and living independently without the need for in-home care.”
VanNess is hoping the brain development therapy will catch on with doctors and clinicians, especially as the baby boomers turn 65.
“Think how much we would save in medial costs,” VanNess said. “Having more productive seniors, instead of seniors sitting at home on Social Security — think what we could do for our economy.”
Aging is happening, Adams said. It will be important for Colorado Springs to seize the opportunities, she said.
“If we do what we have always done with the baby boomers, we are going to wake up one day and say, ‘good grief, we need wheel chairs and a gazillion things and we don’t’ have them.’
“It’s happening,” Adams said. “Let’s get ready for it and make it more pleasant to age.”