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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

Colorado Seniors and Their Health: Where Are Older Adults Most Vulnerable?

November 29, 2017

They may be poor or live alone. Their sight may be failing, or they may have trouble remembering what day it is. Some will need assisted living; others will spend their golden years in their own homes and neighborhoods.

The stunning growth of Colorado’s 65-plus population is well underway. By 2050 there will be twice as many seniors as there are today, with implications for the state’s economy, infrastructure, workforce, health care and more.

No county will be unaffected by this demographic shift. But not all will be impacted equally.

The Colorado Health Institute (CHI) has created an index that pinpoints counties with the highest and lowest proportion of vulnerable seniors. The Aging Vulnerability Index is intended to help advocates, policymakers and others assess the characteristics of their senior residents as they determine the best policies, programs, and plans to meet their needs.

The index is based on two factors — risks such as poverty, age or living alone and needs such as physical or cognitive difficulties. A score of 10 indicates areas with the highest concentration of vulnerable seniors. A score of one means an area has the fewest vulnerable seniors.

CHI’s new research finds that location matters for seniors’ health.

Counties on the Eastern Plains and in the San Luis Valley have the highest concentration of vulnerable seniors. Otero County scores 9.2 on the overall vulnerability scale — the highest in the state. Baca, Costilla and Crowley counties are second, each at 9.1.

Mountain counties, including Park, Summit, Ouray, and Clear Creek, are the least vulnerable, registering lower levels of both risk and need.

CHI’s analysis found some surprising contradictions, reflecting the fact that each county and community is home to seniors with unique risks, needs and resources.

For example, seniors in Cheyenne County have some of the highest levels of hearing limitations and difficulties walking or climbing stairs. But they also report some of the lowest rates of self-care or independent living limitations.

Tiny Mineral and San Juan counties have lower risk scores, with fewer seniors living in poverty and relatively low rates of adults over age 80. Yet these residents are more likely to struggle with independent living or hearing limitations.

Seniors’ needs vary by county – requiring unique approaches. A deeper dive into the indicators will help stakeholders who are working to meet the needs of their changing populations.

Users can explore the Index by visiting an interactive website to see how counties compare with one another on overall scores as well as each of the 10 factors. A downloadable workbook has data profiles for all 64 counties.

 

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