By the year 2030, the Harris County Area Agency on Aging reports 1 in every 6 county residents is projected to be in the 65-and-older age group—or about 16.8 percent of all residents. This number would be more than double the 65-and-older portion of the county’s population in 2000, which was 7.4 percent.
Meanwhile, Cy-Fair’s 65-and-older population grew to 8 percent of the population in 2016 from 6.2 percent in 2011. This was the first year baby boomers—a term used to identify individuals born following World War II, the largest generation in U.S. history—began turning 65.
The Greater Houston area has characteristics that attract seniors, said Fritz McDonald Jr., founder of the Great Age Movement, a nonprofit that builds recreational facilities for seniors.
“A lot of [seniors] move to warmer climates, and the cost of living is affordable,” he said. “We also have the Texas Medical Center, and older people need to be close to a hospital system.”
Meanwhile, the average U.S. life expectancy rose from 68.2 years to 78.6 years from 1950 to 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
“People are living longer these days,” said Lillian Howard, a primary care physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group Cypress. “Older people have much to contribute and should be encouraged to be active in the lives of their families, friends and in their communities.”
The growth of this population group is driving demand for continued and additional services in the Cy-Fair area, including housing options, health care access and community initiatives to keep seniors active.
Housing Cy-Fair seniors
From independent-living communities to assisted-living and memory-care centers, the Cy-Fair area is home to several residential options designed to provide seniors amenities or support services not found in their homes.
“When senior patients are no longer safe to live alone, families need to come together to help the patient make decisions regarding the most appropriate living situation,” Howard said. “The patient’s medical condition—physical and mental—as well as their financial situation are important things to consider.”
New senior living developments in Cy-Fair include Park Creek Independent Living—which opened on Huffmeister Road in January—and upcoming facilities include Eden Memory Care and Spring Cypress Assisted Living and Memory Care, both of which are slated to open this summer.
Samantha Juarez, senior community relations director with Park Creek, said seniors who are moving out of their own homes are looking for communities that provide a residential feel with activities and amenities but are also near restaurants, shopping, live theater and grocery stores. Suburbs like Cy-Fair are popular because they are easier to navigate than larger cities and amenities are a short distance away, she said.
“What I’ve heard from many of my residents is that they had family in this area, and they’re coming to us because there wasn’t anything like us in the area,” Juarez said.
Residents can bring their own furniture and do everything they can to make their apartments feel like home.
“Many seniors you talk to say, ‘I don’t want to move out of my house,’ because they grew up in a generation where the American dream was to live and die in your own home,” Juarez said. “But what we found was that wasn’t always safe.”
When seniors develop memory loss conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, they should transition from independent-living or assisted-living facilities to memory-care centers, which provide more assistance and monitoring for safety reasons, said Aftab Ghesani, CEO and operating partner of the incoming Eden Memory Care.
“When the safety becomes a concern of the loved one is when they should seriously consider putting them in a home where the quality of life and … amenities are provided,” he said. “When they see memory issues in their mom or dad—they’re forgetting to do things [such as] leaving the stove on, opening the door and wandering away from the house.”
In addition to a number of amenities, each aspect of the 16-bed facility’s design is meant to prevent confusion in patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and shadowboxes displaying family photos and other sentimental items are placed outside each resident’s room.
“We’ll have activities they’re used to doing throughout their life,” Ghesani said. “Simple things like having a broom on the back porch or a typewriter or sewing machine so they can relate it to their younger years—anything that brings back those memories.”
Keeping seniors active
Jessica Rivas, vice president of operations at Memorial Hermann Cypress Hospital, said some of the most common reasons for hospitalization among seniors locally are congestive heart failure, diabetes, falls with injury and dehydration.
Monitoring weight, blood pressure and cholesterol while staying up-to-date on primary care physician visits and immunizations is essential for individuals older than 50, said Howard, who encouraged seniors to stay active and exercise.
“Exercise helps keep your muscles strong and helps you maintain balance,” she said. “This will lessen the likelihood of falls, which is a top cause of injury in that age group.”
Great Age Movement is working to bring new fitness options to seniors living in Cy-Fair.
McDonald said the goal of the organization is to bring more recreational activities for seniors closer to home. Founded in August 2016, the nonprofit seeks to build spaces across the Greater Houston area, and ultimately nationwide, for seniors to exercise and learn how to maintain their health.
McDonald said he was inspired to launch the project through his work in the home health industry. If a senior is treated in the hospital for a fall, for instance, he or she may continue receiving services at a rehabilitation center or at the home health level, he said.
“I noticed patients really had nowhere to go after we leave them,” McDonald said. “Outside community centers, people were wondering what else they could do. What I’ve seen at the home level is placing patients on antidepressants and keeping them put to keep them safe, but in reality, that’s causing all kinds of medical problems.”
One of the organization’s first endeavors is to work with the city of Jersey Village to develop a “senior playground” on a 2.3-acre tract at Dillard Drive. The city’s next step is to conduct a feasibility study for the project.
Senior playgrounds are designed for older individuals to use low-impact exercise equipment that improves balance, coordination and flexibility to reduce falls and other injuries, McDonald said. Activities may include balance bridges, tandem elliptical machines, cardio bikes, hand-eye coordination exercises, an art meditation garden, yoga and stretching programs.
“Based on my clinical experiences being with seniors for so long, I felt it was time to do something more impactful that had sustainability,” he said. “The key is to not only exercise your body, but your mind and your spirit. The park allows us to tap into all three aspects.”
Experts agree mental exercises are just as important as physical exercises when it comes to senior health. While memory loss is not always preventable, Howard said there are several practical ways to lessen its effects by keeping the mind engaged.
“I encourage my patients to do jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, sudoku, brain teasers—anything that will make them think and problem solve,” she said. “I encourage my patients to take up a new hobby or attend a class on something they have always wanted to learn about. More than anything, I encourage my patients to interact with others.”
From volunteering in local churches, schools and nonprofits to attending classes at community centers, Cy-Fair has several opportunities for seniors to connect with others in their age group.
For a $25 annual membership fee, Lone Star College-CyFair’s Academy for Lifelong Learning offers free classes and social activities for adults age 50 and older. Topics range from crafts, culinary arts, travel and reading to technology, finance, health, history, nature and safety.
Since launching in fall 2004, the program has grown to more than 550 members at LSC-CyFair, with plenty of room to accommodate future growth, said Pat Chandler, director of continuing education at LSC-Kingwood.
“It’s like aerobics for the brain,” she said. “People are able to mix and mingle with other folks their age, learn at the same time and have fun. That’s just good for anyone at any age.”
Harris County Precinct 4’s Senior Adult Program also aims to provide enriching and engaging activities to local adults age 50 and older. Director Jan Sexton said Precinct 4 partners with local churches, libraries and community centers to provide convenient access to programming across the region.
In 2017, more than 30,000 attendees participated in bus trips, classes, luncheons and volunteer opportunities throughout Precinct 4, Sexton said.
“Participants … enjoy the social, educational and cultural aspects of events and bus trips as well as the convenience of having Precinct 4 plan the trips and events and take care of the driving,” she said. “Many senior adults comment that they visit many places they would have never been able to travel on their own.”