Colorado Springs' growing senior population shouldn't be seen as a silver tsunami, but a silver lining for companies and entrepreneurs looking to grow their business.
Business, education and community leaders repeated this mantra Wednesday at "The Business of Aging: Infrastructure, Information and Institutional Innovation" miniconference at the Penrose Garden House Pavilion on the city's southwest side. Attendees discussed how the growing population of older adults in the city will affect the economy and strategies to leverage that growth to meet seniors' needs and boost businesses' bottom lines.
El Paso County's population of residents 65 and up is expected to grow by 62 percent by 2020, said Robert Kemp, estimates demographer at the State Demography Office. By 2040, the group's population is predicted to reach 172,394 - a 179 percent increase from 2010's population of 62,051 and more than triple the increase expected in the total population. And this group, he said, has some serious spending power, especially when it comes to technology.
"Aging is going to be hugely fundamental to the economic changes we're going to see," Kemp said.
Older adults are increasingly buying apps, gadgets and home systems that help them track their health needs, nurse and health care, said journalist Elizabeth Hanes.
"People tend to think that the elderly never adopted or are late adopters (of technology). That is not true," she said. "Boomers have the money, are spending their money and are spending it on technology. Give them something to buy."
The technology doesn't have to be cutting edge, she said. It just needs to be something that is simple and performs a service, such as to monitor blood pressure, remind seniors to take their pills or contact relatives when something is wrong, said Hanes, who lived in Colorado Springs for 15 years before moving to pursue a new job.
Although local businesses and products - such as health record software company RCSPros - are beginning to provide the services in demand, there is still plenty of room for growth in the market, Hanes said.
These innovations are only possible with Colorado Springs' supportive investing community and an infrastructure that supports entrepreneurship, President of RCSPros Becky Medved said.
"Aging is not going to be off-shored. We're going to do that right here," she said.
There are still needs that lack a solution, however. Older adults in Colorado Springs are especially in need of a consistent transportation service, said Beth Roalstad, executive director of the Innovations in Aging Collaborative, which organized the miniconference.
A report on programs in place to support aging in Colorado Springs, published by Jody Alyn Consulting in January, lists transportation as the No. 1 challenge facing the elderly community. Public transportation is neither convenient nor covers enough geographic area, according to the report, and other options are too expensive.
Transportation is especially important for older adults who must visit the doctor on a regular basis but can't drive themselves, Roalstad said.
But lack of collaboration is slowing innovation in transportation and other fields, many said.
"There are so many great groups and organizations working in this sector, but nobody knows each other or knows to talk to each other," said Barbara Yalich, founder of the Innovations in Aging Collaborative.
Likewise, there is no place where information about available resources and organizations is centralized and easily available, said Martha Barton, CEO of Pikes Peak Hospice and Palliative Care. "Too often I hear people ask, 'Why didn't I know about this earlier,'" Barton said.
But these problems are what Innovations in Aging and its programming is working to highlight and improve, Roalstad said.
"These topics are not only relevant to being an older person, but also relevant to the community as a whole," she said.