In with the old: Churches minister to growing elderly population (copy)

Spike Craig, a fifteen-year-member of Sunrise Methodist Church's SAGE group, attends a lunch and theater performance at Sunrise Methodist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Sunday, November 15, 2015. Sunrise members over 55 participate in a host of activities throughout the year that are designed to help integrate the growing demographic into regular church activities. (Gazette file photo)

In the quest to be a community where people age gracefully, the biggest hurdle might be simply ensuring that people know what help exists.

A disturbingly low number of people aged 60 and older are aware of resources in El Paso County — marking a critical challenge amid a wave of retiring baby boomers and an ever-aging population, says a new study released Tuesday by the Innovations in Aging Collaborative.

"We did learn a lot just how low awareness is. It's shockingly low," said Debbie Balch, CEO and founder of the research firm Elevated Insights, which wrote the report. "They're aware of a small proportion of services and using even a smaller proportion of services.

"If Colorado Springs is to be age friendly for all ages, and for all demographics in those ages, just getting the awareness up is first and foremost."

The report — which gauged the opinions of 460 seniors and 140 caregivers — comes as Colorado Springs works to implement a five-year plan to help seniors live healthy and vibrant lives in the Pikes Peak region as part of the AARP's Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities initiative.

It's a pressing issue. A so-called "silver tsunami" is expected to hit communities across the nation as baby boomers age. By 2030, for example, the share of people aged 60 and older in El Paso County will tick up to 20 percent, the report said. Other estimates have pegged that figure growing even higher, especially by 2040.

So far, the vast majority of people aged 60 to 64 said they were satisfied overall with living in the county, the report found. That satisfaction only grew as people aged.

County residents gave exceptional scores for a wealth of factors tied to quality of life, such as availability of religious activities, volunteering opportunities and the ability to use the internet to find resources.

But several well-worn challenges also arose. Topping their complaints were the area's anemic public transportation system, a lack of affordable housing, crumbling sidewalks and streets and a lack of jobs. 

Notably, the report found many seniors were unaware of services that could boost their quality of life.

For example, two-thirds of the people surveyed said they had yet to hear about nearly 10 organizations that offer services for seniors, including the Area Agency on Aging and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Aging Center. Far fewer actually used those services.

To help bridge that gap, Innovations in Aging and the Area Agency on Aging plan to create an online portal in the next couple of months to serve as a one-stop online resource for people seeking services.

"The hope is it'll be a really comprehensive and user friendly resource," said Claire Anderson, Innovations in Aging's executive director. "We know there's so many community calendars and great websites, and there's the (Pikes Peak Area Council on Aging) Yellow Book and the (Seniors) BlueBook. But I think sometimes people still get lost in that, just because there is so much."

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