Between 2010 and 2017, Texas experienced the largest increase in the senior population in the country, both in number and percentage change, with an increase of 3.1 million seniors—up 12.6 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Williamson County saw an even more dramatic increase in the senior population between 2010 and 2016, with a gain of 24,405 people, or a 65 percent increase in the number of people over the age of 65, according to the Census.
“The growth comes from people who are migrating into the state and from people who are just aging and living longer,” said Annette Juba, deputy director of AGE Central Texas, which provides resources and education to senior citizens and caregivers.
Williamson County is the 22nd-highest ranked county in the country in terms of numeric population growth, according to the Census Bureau. Just under 74 percent of that growth is attributed to migration.
“One of the additional factors that means there are proportionally more seniors is that there are fewer young people — not as many people are having babies — so the population is proportionally getting more adults,” Juba said.
The Census Bureau estimates that the percentage of residents under the age of 34 decreased in Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto between 2010 and 2016. In Pflugerville, the demographic fell roughly 9 percent over the six-year span. During the same time period, the percentage of residents over the age of 65 rose. In Pflugerville, the percentage of senior residents grew 4 percent between 2010 and 2016. The Census predicts that the demographic will continue to grow.
“In response to the dramatic population growth, many senior housing companies are building new communities,” Juba said. “Oftentimes, though, these communities are expensive and target high-end consumers.”
Types of senior care
The categories of senior living facilities fall on a spectrum ranging from independent living to skilled nursing facilities.
Independent living facilities are housing complexes in which residents are still able to perform daily activities without assistance.
Skilled nursing facilities, commonly referred to as nursing homes or rehabs, are facilities for people dealing with injuries who need round-the-clock medical care.
“There are a lot of folks living in a nursing home, which was really not the intent, so as we have grown as a society and recognized different things, assisted livings have become very popular,” said Kelli Hudson, director and co-owner of Sundara Senior Living in Round Rock.
Assisted-living facilities are intended for people who need assistance with various daily activities, such as using the toilet or getting dressed, but do not require a 24-hour nurse.
Under the umbrella of assisted living falls memory care, which is for people who have conditions such as dementia. The first memory care facility in Round Rock, Pflugerville or Hutto opened in 2011. Since then, three more memory care facilities have opened and four more are on the horizon.
“I think when senior facilities and this idea of needing specific communities and places for older adults first came about, it was much in the way of the medical model,” Juba said. “It was very much like a hospital that people lived in, and the industry sort of worked its way away from that and to more of a home-like environment. This idea of aging in place and aging in communities really took hold, and the idea was to make places much more welcoming, home-like and inviting.”
A new approach
In Round Rock, Sundara Senior Living is preparing to officially open its doors in late March at 1000 Rusk Road, near Forest Creek Drive. Sundara is designed to care specifically for residents in need of memory care.
Sundara founder, owner and developer Christopher Han said he began developing senior care facilities in the Midwest 17 years ago before he came to Texas, where he has developed three facilities in the Waco area.
“My epiphany was waking up and realizing that I wouldn’t put my parents into a single facility that I had built,” Han said.
Han said he saw issues in the industry with operations, pressures for investor returns, high turnover and a lack of observational context.
“What’s important in memory care is what we call ‘observational context.’ For example, you know something is wrong with your mom in the first 10 seconds that you see her. So, taking care of people really depends on constancy of contact so you build that kind of resident awareness and a body of information that pertains to your residents. It’s very hard to do that when you have 50 to 70 residents in a facility,” Han said. “So I went back to the drawing board, and this is what I came up with.”
Sundara’s owners believe that their smaller population model will allow for better attention and care for residents.
One development in Pflugerville aims to house all disciplines of senior care on one property. Heritage Lakes will ultimately be a continuous care community, according to Morgan Bender, with RJ Developments. Heritage Lakes is being built near the intersection of Kelly and Weiss lanes.
The first phase of Heritage Lakes offers senior living cottages to residents age 55 and older. The next phase will be an independent-living apartment building followed by an assisted living facility then a memory care facility. Bender said the goal is to break ground on the independent-living apartments, assisted-living and memory care facilities in 2018. The final phase at Heritage Lakes will be a skilled nursing and rehab facility.
Bender said that the developers entered an agreement with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and third party corporations to conduct research and development for an innovative aging initiative.
“We are also looking at research that would enhance the quality of life for elders,” Bender said. “We hope to craft programs that enhance the quality of care that an individual receives.”
Bender said some of that research includes finding ways to help residents connect with their families by creating devices that are easy to use.
In Texas the Census Bureau projects that 19 percent of the population will be over age 65 by 2050, compared to 12 percent in 2015.
To meet the growing senior population, five more facilities are currently in various phases of development in the area, according to city officials in Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto.
Juba pointed out that one of the biggest issues her clients face is the price of senior living facilities.
According to Genworth, a company that helps people with life insurance and long-term care financing, the average monthly cost of an assisted living facility in the Austin area is $4,895. Genworth predicts that cost will rice to $6,578 by 2027.
“In addition to those concrete, tangible needs, our seniors also want to continue to thrive in the world,” Juba said.