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The New Golden Years

More than 1.3 million Coloradans are about to start turning 65—a population shift that will redefine senior health and living.

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They fought for civil rights, welcomed women to the workforce en masse, and even made being eco-friendly cool. Now, the baby boomers—America’s largest generation at 77 million strong—are tackling a new frontier: senior citizenship. With their characteristic optimism, laudable audacity, incessant work ethic, and, well, sheer numbers, the boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have altered the way our nation—and thus, our state—has operated at every stage of their lives. “This is a very demanding demographic,” says Jennifer Schaufele, executive director for the Denver Regional Council of Governments. “There’s no reason to think that their aging is going to change that.” In fact, it’s a near certainty the coming wave of mature boomers will leave a serious wake as they motor into this life stage.

In Colorado, the baby boomer bulge is expected to more than double the state’s 65-plus population in the next 16 years. And although we’re not Arizona yet, the word is out that the Centennial State is a plum retirement destination: The Milken Institute’s Best Cities for Successful Aging rankings have Denver at 22 out of 100 large metro areas in the United States; Colorado Springs made Money Magazine’s 2013 list for best places to retire; and AARP The Magazine listed Loveland-Fort Collins as one of the top 15 retirement “dream towns” for boomers in the country. All of which means the transformation of the senior lifestyle here in Colorado—encompassing living arrangements as well as physical, emotional, financial, social, and mental health—is officially underway. Whether you’re entering the 65 and better set yourself, trying to help your parents or other relatives navigate their golden years, or just keeping an eye on what your long-term future might look like, here’s how these significant changes may impact you.

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lifestyle

The baby boomers are about to turn our historically young state a dignified shade of gray. But are Colorado communities ready for them?

agewaveMaybe you’re grabbing dinner at Latin-Asian fusion hot spot Zengo or playing Frisbee in Confluence Park. You notice an under-construction apartment complex swathed in blue signage, and you get to thinking: Tucked between downtown and LoHi on the banks of the South Platte, Riverfront Park would be a pretty sweet place to live. A closer look at the development’s plans reveals high-quality finishes like marble countertops and stainless steel appliances, a workout center and saltwater pool, a fifth-floor bar, and town cars waiting to shuttle residents to shows at the Denver Performing Arts Complex or games at Coors Field. You’re this close to calling the sales office when you see a pertinent bit of verbiage: “Balfour Senior Living. Retirement Redefined.”

The location of Balfour’s 205 up-market apartments might come as a surprise, but the demand for them shouldn’t. The boomers may not pan out to be the “healthiest generation” they were once dubbed (nationally, 39 percent are obese and 75 percent have high blood pressure), but with medical technology advancing daily and current 65-year-olds expected to live another 20 years, it’s safe to say life as a senior ain’t what it used to be. Twenty extra relatively healthy years is a long time, and the boomers are savvy consumers who’ll be damned if the only option they have is ending up in their parents’ nursing homes. Instead, they want choices—adequate home care, high-quality assisted living facilities, attractive retirement communities—that allow them to live how and where they want.

And they’re getting them—but, at least in Colorado, supply may not meet demand. While the Centennial State is facing the same increasing need for more senior housing and senior-specific services as the rest of country, the change may be more pronounced here, where we currently have the fourth lowest percentage of seniors, as compared to the total population, in the nation. “When we migrate people to Colorado, we’ve typically migrated them at young ages: from 22 to 37,” says state demographer Elizabeth Garner. The state’s first big bump in young adults came in the 1970s. Meanwhile, net migration for those 65 and older has stayed close to zero. “That’s why this coming transition is so significant for us,” says Garner. “We just haven’t had that larger share of people over the age of 65.”

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Translation: Colorado has work to do to catch up with this growing market. In a 2011 AARP survey, more than eight out of 10 boomers said they want to stay in their current homes as they age. “But,” says Jennifer Schaufele, executive director for the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), which, among other duties, serves as the region’s federally mandated Area Agency on Aging, “we don’t currently have the housing stock available that would allow boomers with mobility problems—whether it’s driving or getting up and down stairs in a home—to age in place.” To that end, DRCOG launched the Boomer Bond Initiative in 2011, which includes a toolkit to help local governments gauge their readiness for the coming age wave. Real estate investors and home builders, take note: Suggestions include making new construction homes more senior friendly by eliminating a front entry stoop, adding grab bars to showers, and using levers instead of round doorknobs, which can be difficult for arthritis sufferers to manage.

The motivation to enable boomers to stay independent goes beyond fulfilling the seniors’ own desires; it’s also a more financially sound plan for our state, according to Schaufele. DRCOG, which provides support for Denver-area residents 60 and older, can enable a senior to stay in his or her home for 10 months—through low-cost services such as meals, rides, and housekeeping or personal care visits—for the equivalent expense incurred by one senior living in a Medicare or Medicaid nursing home for just one month.

numbers“It used to be, if someone qualified for a nursing home, well, then you were going,” says Rachel Webb, founder of Extended Family Home Care, a local nonmedical caregiving provider. But, Webb explains, bolstered by improved medical technology and both public and private desire for cost-efficiency, “now the trend is to age in place. There are options. We can tell people, You can stay at home, and here’s how we’ll make it work.” Companies such as Webb’s offer a wide variety of services: They’ll drop by to make sure Dad’s taken his medications, shop with him at the grocery store, accompany him to doctor’s appointments, help with bathing and grooming, and even just stop by to play cards. “A lot of the boomers have had to force their grandparents or parents to go into a nursing home, and it was a very unpleasant experience,” Webb says. “They want to be able to remain in their own homes, keep their own schedules, and maintain their independence.”

So what about that swanky senior living complex in Riverfront? Balfour founder and CEO Michael Schonbrun says the same unsavory experience of coercing parents into undesirable living arrangements may drive some boomers to make a move early, on their own terms, to places like Balfour at Riverfront Park—which will offer month-to-month independent and assisted living units plus a dementia-care center when it opens this summer. “This notion that seniors wouldn’t want to be where it’s noisy or where there’s traffic, or where there are young people around—it’s baloney,” says Schonbrun. “We think the market is big enough that we can have different segments, and everybody can be happy.”

Schonbrun isn’t the only one in Colorado banking on the boomers’ insistence on diverse options. From luxury suburban giants like Vi at Highlands Ranch to affordable housing, such as the new University Station Apartments across from the University of Denver, to Prairie Pines, a 20-unit facility in the tiny Eastern Plains town of Eads, alternatives to traditional nursing homes are emerging across the state. “The biggest advantage is the social aspect,” Schonbrun says. “You can be in your own home and everything can be customized, but at the end of the day, especially if you’re not driving as much, it can be pretty isolating.” However, openings in these posh communities—beds dedicated to dementia care in particular—are not only likely to become scarce; they’re also pricey (residences at Balfour’s Riverfront Park cost anywhere from $3,900 to $10,000 a month, excluding 28 affordable housing rooms, which start at $1,500).

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Though boomers (and the generations that follow) may enjoy expanded options, Denver licensed psychologist Dr. Rebekah Markheim says the varied choices won’t necessarily make the decisions that come with getting older any easier. “You realize you’re taking a step down,” says Markheim, who specializes in aging issues. “But admitting that you may need help can be difficult. There’s a lot of denial.” That refusal to face a coming reality and plan for it accordingly can result in a host of stumbling blocks—loss of a spouse, dwindling finances, illness—that could rob boomers of their ability to participate in the creative choices they’ve demanded. “There’s a chunk of folks who are going to say, No, that’s not going to be me; I’ll be fine for a long time,” Markheim says. “But I suspect those of us who’ve seen our elders not plan will start to plan.” And with competition for Colorado’s limited home aides, retirement communities, and assisted living facilities increasing daily—the sooner the better.


finance

We talked to Jay Wilday, a senior vice president and branch manager at Stifel Financial in Greenwood Village, to glean by-the-decade tips on preparing for retirement.

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» Grasp the power of compounding. Assuming a return of six percent, you can estimate that money you invest will double every 12 years, if compounded monthly. Put away $1,000 at age 25, and it will be about $16,000 when you turn 73. So, yeah, the $100 you spent at Sushi Den last night cost your future self $1,600.

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» Start a 401(k). Wilday advises putting away “as much as you can,” but the rule of thumb is 10 to 15 percent of your gross income. Just got a raise? Good for you. Now earmark it for your 401(k) and pretend it never happened.

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» Limit your debt. If you borrow $25,000 to score that 2014 Subaru Outback and pay the minimum for five years, it could end up costing you $40,000. Opt for an older car instead, and use the difference to pay off home mortgage debt.

» Have the difficult conversations. Talk with your parents about their plans for retirement. Will you need to contribute to their care? If you have kids yourself, now’s the time to discuss saving for college. Finally, look into life insurance. If something were to happen to you on the slopes next weekend, could your spouse meet the expenses of your household?

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» Downsize. If you haven’t been saving like you should—or you’ve recently decided you want to retire on the beach—you may need to reduce your cost of living. Kids gone? Sell the big house and move into a cheaper townhome.

» Consider a long-term care policy. The median cost of a private room in an assisted living facility in Colorado is $3,520 per month. If you’re worried you haven’t saved enough to cover the home care, assisted living, or nursing home costs that arise for 70 percent of people over 65, a policy can help you avoid burdening your family with those expenses.

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» Find a financial adviser. The typical withdrawal rate on a pot of money you’ve saved for retirement is about four percent per year. But projecting your future housing and health-care costs is a complex process; enlist a professional to help you figure out how to stretch what you’ve saved—and when you can retire.

» Don’t count on Social Security. Although Wilday thinks the program will continue in some form, he cautions against depending on it as retirement income. Instead, consider whatever you get a bonus and book that ski-in, ski-out cabin rental you’ve been talking about.

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caregiving

markheim

The average American woman will now spend more years taking care of her parents than her kids. And in many cases, adults are looking after their kids and their parents simultaneously. Dr. Rebekah Markheim, a Denver licensed psychologist who specializes in caregiving counseling and aging issues, offers advice for how those who are pulling double duty can stay healthy and happy—and sane.

5280: What can we do to avoid feeling overwhelmed? 

Rebekah Markheim: Realize that you don’t have to do everything. Delegate. Staying in the moment is also important; if we can’t do anything about it right now, we can’t worry about it right now.

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How do we convince our parents they need help?

That’s where the Department of Motor Vehicles comes in, where the doctor comes in. You need to consult and bring in outside resources to be the voices of reason. Parents tell their children what to do for the first 20 to 30 years; changing that pattern isn’t going to be easy for an elder.

What do we need to understand about what aging loved ones are dealing with?

There’s loss all over the place. They’re losing spouses, family, jobs, housing, their roles in life, their health. When you retire, what is your purpose, your value? Do you want to volunteer; be a Walmart greeter; take care of the grandkids; get active in art programs; lead a hiking trip up a fourteener? We still need goals to achieve. Without that we feel useless, and therefore worthless. Seniors have a tremendous amount of wisdom; they are not useless. But the transition from working to retirement is often hard to bridge.

How do we manage the inevitable guilt?

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Guilt is a struggle. Accepting that you’re doing the best you can with the resources and time you have is really hard. Watch your expectations. If your goal is to be perfect, you will fail. You’re going to help and help and help, and it’s not necessarily going to get better. You don’t get to be the rescuer; you don’t get to save anybody. You get to help your loved one live well and then leave gracefully.

What are some strategies for keeping balance?

I like what the airlines say: Put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others. If we’re not sleeping or eating, then we can’t help our loved ones. But self-care needs to be planned. It doesn’t just happen. Go and get that pedicure or massage; take your run. If you can exercise, that alone is huge; there’s so much data on what exercise does for depression and anxiety.


{ A Helping Hand

While caregiving for a loved one creates a special bond, here’s the truth: Sometimes you could both use a break. Seniors need interaction with the outside world, and caregivers need time off and support. When you’re ready for a breather, check out these local services.

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helpinghand


health

How Coloradans’ love for physical activity could help them escape cognitive decline as they age.

While we still can’t control the two biggest risk factors for Alzheimer’s—age and genetics—there’s hope for active Centennial Staters: Because some dementia is caused by disease in arteries in the brain, we may be able to prevent it the same way we stave off clogged pipes elsewhere in the body. “It’s become quite well realized that a huge percentage of patients with Alzheimer’s also have vascular disease,” says Dr. David Palmquist, a primary care physician for older adults and practice group leader with IPC/Senior Care of Colorado. “That’s one area where, starting younger in life, we can make a difference.”

And we’re going to need it. With a comparatively low percentage of seniors in our current population, Colorado has the country’s third highest projected change in Alzheimer’s cases (behind Alaska and Utah) between 2000 and 2025—a 124 percent increase. Palmquist breaks down what you can do to lower your risk of vascular dementia.

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definitely


Research }

In November 2013, the Alzheimer’s Disease Research and Clinical Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus opened and became the first facility of its kind within 600 miles of Denver. In addition to treating patients and executing clinical trials, the center is home to researchers who are working with the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome to study recently discovered connections between the two conditions.

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Watch for: financial slipups—missed bills, trouble balancing the checkbook—and “impaired awareness of recent occasions,” such as not remembering being at a grandchild’s latest birthday party.

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firstperson

Margery Fridstein, an 80-something licensed professional counselor and part-time writer, shares witty, pragmatic, and thoughtful perspectives on growing older from her perch at Vi, a continuing care retirement community in Highlands Ranch.

margery“My grandfather died in his 50s; my mother died in her late 70s. And here I am with that heredity, popping a few pills and living a strong, active life in my 80s. Strange, isn’t it? Aging has changed, and my friends and I are blazing new trails.”

“The other day my editor sent me an email. I answered it. Then the phone rang. When the call was over, I went back to my computer and thought, Did I send that email? Being in the process of mastering a new MacBook Air, I wasn’t quite sure where to look. So I looked in my mind—and the memory was gone. Three minutes after the action: absolutely blank. Sure, I could send her another, but I hate to seem like the old lady I am.”

“Bob and I decided to move from the Aspen area to Denver when he stopped skiing on his 90th birthday and needed more oxygen. On our search for senior housing, a friend invited us to visit her community near Boulder. All went well until we had lunch in the dining room. Everyone looked so old. Even though I was in my mid-70s, I thought, Can I live with all these old people?”

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“My husband died unexpectedly the year after we moved to Vi. Losing Bob was like losing part of myself; I am such a little lump in the king-size bed we bought when we moved in. At Vi, there are lots of us—women who are alone.”

“Funny but true: Each time I buy Costco’s huge package of toilet paper, I wonder if I will live long enough to use it up.”

“Bring your adult child with you to your doctor, and your doctor often talks to her as though you don’t exist.” 

“Because we are living so much longer, we are living with lots of awful stuff no one likes to talk about. They are the secret ailments of aging: bladder leakage, insomnia, hearing loss, visual loss. I don’t think anyone told our eyes, ears, teeth, joints, and bones that they are expected to last as long as our hearts seem able to continue beating.”

“My life now is easy, active. Sure I miss the beauty of the 20 years I lived in the mountains. I miss my dear friends. I deeply miss my husband. However, I know it’s OK to miss the things you love. Finding new interests, new people, and feeling safe and cared for is what’s important now.”

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