Now and Later: The Case for Senior-focused Housing

Putting green InnovAge low-income senior community in Colorado.
Putting green at InnovAge low-income senior community in Colorado.









By Maureen Hewitt

Ready or not, Colorado  and the rest of the nation soon will be inundated by adults who need affordable, senior-focused housing and wrap-around healthcare services.

While Colorado has fewer older adults moving here to retire compared to other states, Colorado did have about 6,000 people 65 years old and older move to the state from 2000 to 2010. The rest in this age group—approximately 127,000 people—were already here.

People move here when they’re young and don’t leave.

Get Ready, They’re Already Here

The senior housing industry has a small head start, but 2030 will be here before we know it. Why 2030? By 2030 the State estimates the number of people 65 years old plus in Colorado will have increased by 150 percent. Even today, the affordable senior housing industry is behind demand: there’s a lack of high-quality, affordable housing available.

Not long ago InnovAge opened a 72-unit senior housing community in Thornton, Colorado. It has critical, senior-friendly features such as no-step entries, extra-wide doorways, and lever-style door and faucet handles. But there’s also a dog park, a putting green, walking paths and gardens. Every unit is affordable, specifically targeting older adults with limited incomes.

This anecdote isn’t uncommon in affordable senior housing. In 2011, 3.9 million low income older adults in the U.S. were eligible for housing assistance. But there wasn’t enough stock; only 1.4 million received assistance. In 2015, Colorado was ranked ninth in senior housing construction; for all types of senior housing, not just affordable senior housing.

In addition to having too few affordable units for older adults, most everyone wants to age in place. An AARP study found most 45 year olds want to live in their current home “as long as possible.” As the 45 year olds age, this inclination grows.

The same study showed this desire increases: 92 percent of those between 65 and 74; and 95 percent of 75 and up want to remain at home. Aging in place is simply living in one’s own home—a house, an apartment, a family member’s home—as one ages and bringing the important health services to the home, rather than permanently bringing the person to the services, such as in a skilled nursing facility.

Even with these extremely high numbers, older adults face several questions:

  • Where will I live?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Will healthcare services be available?

Homeward Bound

Critical to answering these questions is identifying those older adults who are physically and mentally able to age in place and then wrapping healthcare services around them like a blanket. When this doesn’t occur, the older adult often finds herself in the last place she wants to be:

“The typical long-term care trajectory forces older adults to move from home, to independent senior housing, to assisted living, and then to nursing home as their health and functional abilities decline. The first move is often the result of inadequacies of the home environment to accommodate healthy aging,” according to a study in Nurse Outlook.

Taking an optimistic approach, I believe Colorado will be in position by 2030 to serve older adults who want to age in place. By using different services and housing options, it’s possible to help Colorado’s current and future older adults age in place. Many are already available:

  • Technology allows us to do so much more today than was possible even a few years ago. Older parents and children keep in touch via social media and video chat. The Internet of Things—connecting home-based monitoring devices to the Internet—allows older adults to be monitored by family or health professionals who keep tabs on health status, falls and more.
  • PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) and programs designed specifically for older adults who live on their own, typically include socialization, meals, transportation, medical and dental care, and activities. This serves as the medical home for the older adult and provides medical, dental and physical therapy, and other services.
  • Care coordination services can be brought to an older adult’s home. This includes at-home medical visits, help with household chores or the management of chronic illnesses. (Health services provided at home typically cost a fraction of what those same services cost in a nursing home or similar facility.)
  • Affordable housing units must be built to satisfy near- and long-term need.

Nevertheless, a recent Harvard University report warns “disconnects between housing programs and the health care system” puts “many older adults with disabilities or long-term care needs at risk of premature institutionalization.”

I speak for 45-year-old Coloradoans and people of all ages when I say “we really don’t want that to happen.” So let’s work to make sure Colorado is ready for the Silver Tsunami.

Maureen Hewitt, InnovAge President and CEO
Maureen Hewitt, InnovAge President and CEO

Maureen Hewitt is the President and Chief Executive Officer of InnovAge, a Denver-based provider of comprehensive healthcare services for older adults in California, Colorado and New Mexico.  Hewitt has held this role since 2006 and has led for-profit and nonprofit health care organizations for more than 25 years. Hewitt’s experience includes leading skilled nursing/sub-acute care facilities and acute care and rehabilitation hospitals, as well as serving in volunteer board positions.

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