First rule of retirement: Go and have fun

Two seniors hold hands as they walk through a park. (GETTY IMAGES)

If you’re over 50 years old and living in Colorado Springs, you may not know it, but there’s an organization that has been looking out for your best interests and making great strides in improving the city for older adults for more than a decade now.

Innovations in Aging Collaborative (IIAC) was founded in 2008 to convene community leaders interested in aging issues and the growing senior population in the Colorado Springs area. They have now been officially working as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization for five-and-a-half years with the mission to promote creative approaches that address the challenges and opportunities of aging, and to create a community where individuals of every age feel valued, respected and supported.

“Colorado Springs became a member of AARP’s Age-Friendly Community Network in 2016 under the leadership of Mayor (John) Suthers and city council, and Innovations in Aging is the local stakeholder group that’s actually implementing the Age-Friendly Colorado Springs plan. It’s a tremendous group of volunteers and leaders,” said State Director for AARP Colorado Bob Murphy.

Over the years, IIAC has amassed a group 28 local partners throughout the community to work with depending on the issues needing addressed, and has coordinated various studies and reports that have spurred action towards achieving their goals. IIAC were early adopters of the AARP Age-Friendly network, and today the work they’re doing in the community is held up as a national model within the network, which has grown to 370 age-friendly communities.

5-year plan midway update

When a community enters the AARP Age-Friendly network, one of the first requirements is to write a five-year plan, and IIAC recently completed the required two-and-a-half-year update of that five-year plan. One of the first parts of IIAC’s plan was a recommendation that city council form a Commission on Aging, and that was adopted by city council in 2017. Said Murphy, “They’ve got a couple of members of the [IIAC] group who are members of that commission. And beyond that, they just work very closely in an advisory role, because commissions are an advisory to city council. So [IIAC] works closely with the commission to communicate the needs of older adults in Colorado Springs to city council.”

The commission is currently working towards making recommendations to the mayor and city council for the 2020 budget.

Becoming Dementia-Friendly

We’re all living longer. In fact, the fastest-growing population segments in Colorado right now are 75 and over, and 85 and over. Unfortunately, along with living longer comes the increased likelihood of suffering from some form of dementia. To accommodate this, Colorado Springs has recently joined Dementia-Friendly America and has officially become a Dementia-Friendly community.

IIAC was able to get city council to proclaim June as Dementia-Friendly, Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month, and will begin working towards creating a local action plan. “It’s raising awareness about something that is all too common, and going to become more common as we grow older. Combined with the Age-Friendly movement, I think it ultimately can bring people to Colorado Springs, because they know that the support systems are going to be here,” Murphy said.

Satisfaction study for older adults recently completed

IIAC recently released their newest research study completed by Elevated Insights, which profiles the needs, awareness and satisfaction of older adults in El Paso County. Said Murphy, “The results focused on caregiving, and that’s a big challenge that every community in this country is facing, as some of us are getting a little older and some of the kids that are maybe taking care of us are busy with their families. The ratio of caregivers is shrinking.”

The study also revealed that older adults in El Paso County are often aware of the services available to them, but that those services are underutilized because people are not sure how to access them. In response to this, IIAC is developing a website portal that will have a comprehensive view of senior services, resources and opportunities for civic and social engagement. The portal is slated for launch later this summer. “[IIAC] works with so many partners in Colorado Springs, so their goal is to bring a lot of these resources together on one website,” said Murphy.

Young people get involved

IIAC is also working with the Quad Innovation Partnership, which includes students from The Academy, Colorado College, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Community College. This collaborative of students is currently researching best practices in affordable senior housing models, both in Colorado and nationally, in hopes that they can recommend a model that will work in Colorado Springs and attract a builder interested in the project.

For example, you might have land available that’s fairly inexpensive because it’s on the outskirts of the community, but if it’s a senior affordable housing community and it’s a mile away from the closest bus stop, it becomes problematic for seniors to go to their doctors, to church, to visit family and attend social activities. Said Murphy, “That’s an example of bringing in community partners, in this case younger folks, to help make recommendations to city council and other policy makers about best practices in affordable housing. It’s a need in Colorado Springs, and then when you talk about the need for affordable senior housing, that’s a particularly acute need.”

IIAC supports ADU zoning

Commonly known as “in-law suites” or “granny flats,” ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) are small residential units that are built inside or onto an existing home, in a backyard or above a garage. IIAC is one of many groups supporting a zoning modification currently before city council that would allow for the building of more of these units.

Developers are still building what they perceive buyers need — 3,000- to 4,000-square-foot homes. But with the aging demographics of Colorado, it’s not going to be the product that’s needed in the future. And with the deficit of affordable housing locally, it’s difficult for seniors to downsize because smaller homes are not available. So, ADUs increase affordable housing options, allow aging parents or adult children to live independently yet alongside family on a single property, or just allow homeowners to generate income for greater financial stability. Added Murphy, “This little suite that’s for your returning millennial college student who can’t quite afford to buy a home yet, may become, in 10 or 15 years, your suite where you’re living while the young person is now a bit older, married, has a family, and is living in the rest of the house.”

In closing, Murphy expressed his admiration for the group and their work. “What a special and committed group of folks [IIAC] are. They’re all really dedicated to this work, to make Colorado Springs the age-friendliest community in the nation. And when they accomplish that, Colorado Springs becomes a community friendly to people of all ages.”

For more information on Innovations in Aging, visit innovationsinaging.org.