Senior tsunami: Aging in place requires transportation solutions

shutterstock_128291111The so-called senior tsunami, named because of the large number of aging Baby Boomers, is headed our way.

Several Colorado Springs community leaders passionate about the aging population are working now to ameliorate the impact.

People want to age in place, said one of those leaders, Beth Roalstad, executive director of the Innovations in Aging Collaborative.

The IIAC and Peak Vista Community Health Centers worked together to study aging in place, to identify problems and solutions. They released their findings last month.

Roalstad was joined by Randy Hylton, director of communications and outreach for Peak Vista, and Jody Alyn, of Jody Alyn Consulting, who wrote the project report.

They also referred to a report about aging in El Paso County prepared by economist Tucker Hart Adams of Summit Economics.

The Colorado State Demography Office anticipates that the population of people age 65 and older living in El Paso County will increase 179 percent in the next 30 years.

“I’m thankful we’re on the front edge of this tsunami,” Roalstad said. “We’re not waiting for someone to bring us the solutions.

“We are working with our providers to come up with the answers on what is needed tomorrow, next week, three years from now, 10 years from now.”

Transportation

The study showed transportation is the largest impediment to aging in place, Roalstad said. As people age, there is a greater need for trips to physicians, and their health issues affect a person’s ability to age in place.

National statistics show that after age 65, 25 percent of people do not drive. By the time people reach age 80, that figure climbs to 75 percent.

Silver Key and Metro Mobility offer rides to seniors, but often those rides must be booked weeks in advance because of high demand for the service, Roalstad said. “They don’t have enough drivers every day to take care of the need.”

Scheduling a ride two weeks out only allows the person to use the service for a routine physician visit, rather than an immediate need.

Silver Key is adding two more vehicles to its fleet of around 30, said Lorri Orwig, chief development officer for the nonprofit.

“We went more than half a million miles last year,” Orwig said.

Orwig said the number of rides has stayed the same during the past few years, but the destinations have changed; people now are requesting rides farther away.

“Our trips have increased in length,” Orwig said. “We do have to turn people down.”

Sometimes the wait can be two weeks, and other times “It’s only four days,” she said.

With a budget of around $900,000, Silver Key transportation currently provides services to people age 60 and older, and only during daylight hours. One of the items the organization’s leaders are considering is offering services at night.

Instead of the phrase “silver tsunami,” Orwig said she prefers “wave of wisdom.”

Silver Key receives funds through the Area Agency on Aging, the City of Colorado Springs, grants and donations.

Funding and medicine

Money is “always an issue,” said Hylton. “There’s a shortage of [medical] providers who will take Medicare,” the federal program to pay for seniors’ health care.

One of the study’s goals involves increasing the amount of money the government pays medical providers under Medicare, he said.

“If we had the right people together, we can change the policy to improve reimbursement rates,” Roalstad said.

“There are so many dynamic things about aging. There’s not enough physicians who have studied gerontology.”

Also, Medicare doesn’t cover dental health or mental health, Alyn said. Medicare reimbursements are so low, it’s hard to recruit staff.

“People talk about decreasing resources,” Alyn said. Seniors face financial pressures that force them to choose between paying for their medicine or food, she added.

Isolation

One challenge, Alyn said, involves the “Wild West mentality — that we can do this alone.”

“We in the Pikes Peak region can be pretty adept at avoiding talking about things,” Alyn said. “Polarization can happen. We need to figure out how to bring divergent ideas together.”

In a report released in 2011, economist Adams said isolation is a problem. At that time, she found that the amount of time that persons spend socializing declines with age, “from 13 percent age 55-64 to only 8 percent for those 75 and older,” the report said.

Some 30 percent of people responding to a survey reported feeling lonely or isolated, the report read, while 43 percent reported a lack of interesting activities to attend.

Housing

“We have a gap in housing alternatives to enable people to live where they want to live in a community until they’re no longer able to live independently,” Roalstad said.

People may choose to remain in the house they have lived in, or move into a smaller house or a condominium with less room.

“In our community, we don’t have enough of those step-down housing units,” Roalstad said.

Large options, such as the Village at Skyline, the Palisades and others are expensive. Many people have sold their homes and are living off the assets, she said.

Resources

“There’s some exciting things happening,” Roalstad said.

The new Lane Center at UCCS will bring integrated care to seniors, Hylton said. Located on the west edge of campus, just across North Nevada Avenue from University Village Colorado, the Lane Center will include a Peak Vista senior health clinic, a nutrition nursing program and a behavioral health clinic.

“It will become a destination for seniors,” Hylton said.

Roalstad cited the Senior Resource Council, a nonprofit membership organization for businesses and volunteers who do work for seniors. Seniors may call the Senior Resource Council to have someone come to their home and install grab bars or wheelchair ramps, said Executive Director Claire Anderson.

The services range from attorneys, finance specialists, home health, fire department and more, Anderson said.

“We make it easier to find those resources. We like to refer to it as a trusted referral,” Anderson said. “We feel comfortable giving these resources to our seniors.”

Members who provide services to seniors pay $150 a year to join. There are about 300 members. The group also organizes a senior expo during the summer, a holiday dinner and dance in November, and the healthy aging educational conference in September, Anderson said.

Roalstad also brought to light a service offered by AbleLink Technologies, which has created software tools to help families maintain communication with their elderly family members.

The company created a simplified way for family members to email and schedule a person’s daily tasks, such as getting dressed, feeding the dog, having breakfast, and more. This works with people who have early-stage dementia, Roalstad said.

“I would get notification that my mom is moving through her schedule,” she said. “That would give me peace of mind and give [her] a sense of accomplishment.”