Data: Region has second-fastest growth rate in the U.S. of those 65 and older
Austin's senior population has grown in recent years and is expected to greatly increase in the future, according to city officials. Some city officials and community members believe this growth could have a significant effect on the Austin community if public and private services aren't prepared for the surge.
According to 2010 census data, the Austin metropolitan statistical area, which includes Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson counties, has a population of 1,716,289 people. About 8.1 percent of the population—138,736 people—is age 65 or older. Between 2000 and 2010, the Austin MSA had a 53 percent jump in the 65 and older population, making it the second-fastest growing population of age 65 and older adults in the nation, according to information compiled by Austin Demographer Ryan Robinson.
Robinson's numbers project the population of 65 and older residents will jump to about 700,000 by 2040.
Seeking to prepare for the growth in the senior population, city officials and community members have come together through the Mayor's Task Force on Aging, which held its first meeting Sept. 20, and identified a few initial topics for discussion.
"We all know that Austin is a great place to retire to. Now we need to make it a great place to grow old in," said Joyce Lauck, executive director of AGE of Central Texas, a nonprofit that provides education and support for senior adults and caregivers.
Lauck, also a member of the Task Force on Aging, said living independently as a senior requires planning and keeping an open mind about the options that are out there, including downsizing, finding alternate forms of transportation, assessing finances and dealing with chronic medical conditions.
Dan Pruett, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels and More and a member of the task force, said allowing seniors to live independently for as long as possible and strengthening the service network has financial benefits for taxpayers and public services.
"The reality is, taxpayers save a tremendous amount of money by keeping people in their home and providing services in the home, including meal service, home repair service and assisted living services," Pruett said. "It's so much less expensive to do that than to move into nursing home care, which costs anywhere from $35,000 to $45,000 a year, and taxpayers often have to pay that."
Sly Majid, chief service officer for Mayor Lee Leffingwell and a task force member, said transportation is a difficult and intricate issue for the city and the community to address, and that issue continues to get more complicated as the senior population grows.
"If you're unable to go to the grocery store, go to your doctor's appointment or out with your friends and family, what else can you do?" Majid said.
The task force plans to discuss issues such as improving sidewalks, assessing public transportation, and evaluating car- or ride-share programs.
Martin Kareithi, accessible transportation specialist with Capital Metro, said the agency offers a reduced fare for those 65 and older as well as some flex route shuttle services designed for seniors. Capital Metro is considering possibly expanding some of those services, he said.
Deborah Brockman, executive director of Faith in Action Caregivers of Southwest Austin, said bus service or ride-share programs are not always a viable transportation solution for senior adults who do not have the stamina to handle multiple stops and bus changes.
Faith in Action Caregivers is made up of nine autonomous organizations based throughout Travis and Williamson counties and part of Bastrop County. FIAC provides personal transportation for senior adults, among other services. The challenge the organization will face in the future will be finding adequate funding and enough volunteers to meet an increased demand, according to Brockman.
Phyllis Snodgrass, Austin Chamber of Commerce senior vice president of investor relations, said she believes the community could see an influx of new businesses catering to the senior population as it grows and more people retire.
"I just see that our population that is going to be retiring is very connected, very Internet-savvy," Snodgrass said. "As they are retiring, they are going to be bored, and there are a lot of opportunities out there to do things either on a volunteer or for-profit basis or mentoring other businesses."
She said the increase will be a mixture of the businesses adapting to the growing and changing needs of the community as well as retirees starting their own businesses and helping with others.
Robert Rowen, a business owner and volunteer at SCORE Austin, said he sees the growing senior demographic possibly strengthening the Austin economy. SCORE Austin is a nonprofit that provides business counseling from business men and women age 50 and older to new and established business owners.
"I think you'll find that most of the economic trends with an older population is that they have a lot more free time and a lot more disposable income," Rowen said.
Rowen, who is in his 60s, said he volunteers his time at SCORE Austin because it keeps him busy, and he likes to help people solve problems.
Dr. Michael Wilson, program officer for healthy aging at St. David's Foundation and a task force member, said he believes the health care industry would be greatly affected by an increase in the senior population.
"When addressing the numbers and levels of older adults in the areas of primary care, family practice and mental health, there's no question there is going to be an increase in need for all clinical staff at all levels," Wilson said. "We already operate under a shortage across the state of Texas for all clinical staff."
He said a couple of matters that need attention are increasing the number of physicians and clinicians in the area and keeping them here.
"It's this multipronged approach that's successful in getting physicians on the ground and in areas that they are needed the greatest," Wilson said. "We want to create a supportive, nurturing, friendly community to encourage clinicians to raise their families here."
Mayor's Task Force on Aging
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced the formation of the Task Force on Aging in his State of the City address in March. The task force has 19 members, two co-chairs and a project facilitator with backgrounds in social services, senior care, health care and city programs. The task force, which will meet monthly through summer 2013, will analyze the Austin demographic landscape to create short-term, mid-term and long-term recommendations and objectives to address strengths and weaknesses in providing a quality life for Austin seniors.