Survey results reflect connection between senior issues and the economy

Dave Norman
Dave Norman

Many issues facing seniors are tied to the economic times. One trend that’s escalated over the past five years is that of an extended family under one roof.

More seniors have moved in with family members, possibly due to the ripple effects of a downturn in the natural gas business and other effects of the Great Recession, said Dave Norman, director of the Area Agency on Aging for Northwest Colorado.

Results from a survey conducted by the state for the Department of Human Services Division of Aging and Adult Services reveal dramatic changes in how seniors answered questions about their concerns in 2005 and how they answered the same questions in 2010.

The share of seniors reporting “at least a minor problem” finding housing to suit their needs jumped from 2 percent to 17 percent during the five-year period. The percentage of seniors reporting problems having enough food to eat rose from 4 percent to 10 percent.

Nearly 25 percent of seniors said they were having a problem getting the health care they needed last year — up from 16 percent in 2005. And more than 33 percent said they were having trouble paying daily expenses.

Fully 86 percent of seniors responding to the survey said they were providing help to friends or relatives, while

15 percent reported receiving help almost every day.

The final two statistics could be indicative of the extended family trend, although seniors who provide help to others might spend only an hour a week on such activities.

Norman said the extended family is a growing trend in a county that features a higher percentage of seniors than does the nation as a whole. About 20 percent of the Mesa County population is 60 years of age or older.

“You’ll see that people are spending more time with families,” Norman said. He said the increase seemed to happen just as people were leaving Mesa County due to the downturn in the natural gas industry in late 2008 and 2009.

Tillie Bishop, a former county commissioner and state senator who spearheaded a local senior initiative until it became dormant in the past year, said the trend doesn’t help seniors who don’t have children.

Moreover, a sentiment echoed by many in the under-60 age group troubles him. “Even if they have children, the children don’t have the feeling of caring for them like they used to,” Bishop said. “Our senior citizens aren’t heavy, they’re our grandparents,” Bishop added, paraphrasing lyrics from a song by the Hollies, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”

Regardless of whether or not seniors have children in the Grand Valley, there’s a societal trend to try to keep seniors at home longer than was the case in previous decades.

“There’s an effort to keep people at home,” Norman said. Home care can cost less than care at doctors’ offices, hospital emergency rooms and long-term care facilities, and many seniors prefer to remain at home when possible.

He said services offered by Home Care of the Grand Valley and Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado can be valuable.