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Ready for Retirees

How the Sector is Preparing for the State’s Shifting Demographics

Colorado consistently ranks as a top destination for retirees. With Baby Boomers reaching retirement age at the rate of 10,000 per day, the population of Coloradoans older than 65 will increase from close to 500,000 in 2010 to more than 1.2 million by 2030.

What will be the economic, social and health consequences of the overall aging of Colorado’s population? What are the specific needs of this population, and how will those be served by current and future industries here? What bioscience research and development will address health and wellness for these Colorado residents?

One center actively addressing these questions is the new Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging at the University of Denver (DU). According to Lotta Granholm-Bentley, Professor of Biology and the Knoebel Institute’s Executive Director, its genesis began several years ago, with a $10 million gift from Betty Knoebel and a pilot grant program to gauge interest in an interdisciplinary program on aging.

“An important differentiation between DU and other institutions that are looking at aging is that we are not co-located with a medical school,” says Granholm-Bentley. “So we have an eclectic group of disciplines including not just biomedical science but also engineering, clinical psychology, social work—even theater and hospitality—involved in collaborations to approach these questions from a different angle.”

The Knoebel Institute’s location—housed with engineering and computer science programs—places the Institute in a perfect position for collaboration between pre-med, engineering and other disciplines. Collaborative research programs already ongoing include studies in rehabilitation science to help injured elderly to regain strength and maximize their quality of life after injury. These programs focus on the interrelationships between positive physical training, biomarkers and memory function, as well as building on basic research in mitochondrial oxidative stress in neurodegenerative disease, the effects of diet and nutrition on aging, health, and dementia.

A Colorado company is focused on pioneering novel therapeutic approaches to treat neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. According to Dr. Charles Stacey, CEO of Accera, Inc., Alzheimer’s disease represents a significant worldwide pandemic and new Alzheimer’s treatments are desperately needed. “There are nearly five million patients currently in the U.S. alone, costing our healthcare system more than $250 billion. With the aging of the general population, that figure could grow to exceed $1 trillion dollars by 2025,” says Stacey.

Colorado companies also want to serve patients from all generations with solutions that personalize healthcare through technology. Although the drive to quantify health parameters first gained traction with apps to manage athletic fitness, exercise and diet, the range of health parameters people track continues to expand, reflecting the wellness-oriented interests and active lifestyles of Colorado residents of all generations.

For example, digital health companies such as RxAssurance in Denver, whose companion applications for healthcare providers and patients, collect and track patient data regarding adherence to prescribed drug regimens to help the provider-patient team maximize treatment outcomes.

Welltok, also located in Denver, has developed the CaféWell Health Optimization Platform – a system to help health plans and other population health managers to guide and incentivize consumers to optimize their health. Telsano, with operations in Aurora, Colo., is developing a platform for capturing, tracking and monitoring personal biometric information, and aggregating it with segmented body composition analysis. The data generated by Telsano’s platform can be used by providers and corporate wellness programs to promote wellness and preventive health services to their patients and employees.

The proactive interest in aging-related issues in both academics and industry mirrors current efforts in Colorado state government and private industry to pre-emptively plan for the consequences of these major demographic shifts.

Mindy Kemp is director of the Colorado Department of Human Services Adult and Aging Services team. The goal of her team is to provide services and assistance to older adults so they can live and thrive in the communities of their choice. She says that getting the state ready for the aging is a bigger issue than just providing services to people as they age.

“We have to consider infrastructure, communities, transportation, healthcare, workforce issues and their impact on the economy and tax base—it’s a really big issue that extends beyond just services,” she says. “Industries like long-term care and healthcare will especially feel the impact of the rise in population, and our universities will need to be focused on how we can prepare the millennial workforce to meet and address these challenges.”

According to Kemp, the combination of demographic realities, longer lifespans and an influx of new arrivals in Colorado means that the shift to an older overall population is here to stay.

“We hear this term “silver tsunami,” and we think of it as a brief uptick in the population and then that will end, but it’s a trend that will continue,” says Kemp. “We will continue to have an older demographic, and it’s something we should all be preparing for, indefinitely.”

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