In 2015, the Colorado General Assembly created the Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging (SAPGA) to develop recommendations to ensure that Colorado is ready for the dramatic demographic shifts …
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In 2015, the Colorado General Assembly created the Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging (SAPGA) to develop recommendations to ensure that Colorado is ready for the dramatic demographic shifts that are underway. Up until the 19th century the average human life span was about 40 years. As we move into the 21st century the average life expectancy in the U.S. is about 75-85 years. It has been projected that by 2050 this could be 85-95.
Throughout time the demographics of the human species has reflected a pyramid with more people at the younger ages and fewer who are older. We are moving from the pyramid to a column (and possibly even an inverse pyramid). In Colorado this shift will be particularly dramatic. In 2019, 25% of the population was 0-19 and 3% were over 85, by 2040 it is projected that those under 19 will make up 3% and those over 85 will make up 6%. When you combine this shift with the life expectancy increase, we have a shift in human society that we have never experienced.
Historically, aging has been addressed primarily from a perspective of serving those who were frail and in poverty. When the safety nets of Social Security in 1935 and later the Older Americans Act, Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 were put into place, the demographics were dramatically different than exist now and will be even further removed from the demographic realities of 2050. There will be an increasing need to provide services and supports to those older Coloradans who need it. However, we also need a new way of thinking about aging and retirement that reflect the reality that most older adults are healthy, have some economic means and most importantly have tremendous assets to share with their communities. This has been the work of SAPGA to make recommendations to aid Colorado in addressing the needs of all older Coloradans, those who are healthy and have much to offer and those who are in need of the support of the community.
SAPGA has made three sets of recommendations to date (2016, 2018 and 2019) and intend to make at least two more sets (2020 and 2022) with the possibility for a third in 2021. The recommendations have been in a broad array of areas including: workforce (both older adults wanting or needing to stay in the workforce and a workforce to serve older adults); long-term care services and supports; transportation, housing, financial security and protection; and a number of other areas. Some of the results from this work include the appointment of a Senior Policy Adviser on Aging in the Governor’s Office, the appointment of a person with aging experience to the Workforce Development Board, the launching of Lifelong Colorado, the development of a Financial Fraud and Security Task Force, the launch of a Legislative Caucus on Aging, and increasing attention related to a range of aging related issues.
A major part of SAPGA’s vision for aging in Colorado is that older Coloradans can live, work and play for as long as they want in the communities, they live in. What we know about aging is that it requires a holistic approach. Unfortunately, the historical perspective has tended to create silos of attention. As we move forward, SAPGA is looking at how the state can take a more integrative perspective, recognizing that actualizing the vision of Colorado requires collaborative approaches across agencies. If we take an issue such as access to healthcare, we know that this requires transportation, housing, nutrition and so much more. We are looking at how state government should be structured to better support older Coloradans — how to ensure that state agencies collaborate, coordinate and attend to the needs of our older residents.
Dr. Christian M. Itin, MSW, is chair of the Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging (SAPGA). To learn more visit www.colorado.gov/agingstrategy. This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. For more information, please visit www.MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.
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