How to Age Well in Central Colorado

By Jan Wondra

Residents of Central Colorado who love where they live likely share a common goal; to grow old in a place they love. Central to that goal are support services to retain quality of life. Agencies such as Upper Arkansas Area Agency on Aging (UAAAA), senior programs created by Chaffee County Public Health and other non-profit organizations such as A Little Help and Sage Generation, are in place to support efforts to remain active and living where we want, as long as possible.

The influx of active seniors into the central Rocky Mountain counties, called a “silver tsunami,” has become a major economic driver. After a 2016 Community Health Assessment, Chaffee County created a five year (2017-2021) health plan with an entire segment focused on seniors.

“One in five Chaffee County residents is 65 or older, and by 2020 it will be one in four residents,” said Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom. “We’re trying to position the county – the lead county in a four-county health coalition – for the future. We have Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center here, but we have an expanding need for senior support.”

In 2017, Chaffee County Public Health created Sassy Seniors, a free service led by public health nurse Sandra Morgan. Appointments can be made by calling 719-530-2563.

“It’s a free assessment program; we assess their home’s safety features, assess their health, offer immunizations, recommend home helpers for things they can no longer do, give them a tool kit for thriving at home,” said Carlstrom.

Carlstrom says plugging seniors into a senior network is important. 

“We have a very proud senior population. We know they are used to giving, and not getting. Our Sassy Seniors effort is designed to reduce isolation, encourage involvement in their community. We point them toward affordable assisted living, we’re advocating home sharing, that’s the Sage Generation initiative.”

For seniors moving further into their golden years, Chaffee Public Health just held a “Being Mortal” event, with a panel of professionals focused on end-of-life decisions. “Articulating advanced directives early is a real gift to your loved ones,” said Carlstrom. “We’re planning a free senior health event May 4 at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds celebrating senior living, with vendors, workshops and speakers about health and wellness, traveling, and generally aging well.”

Carlstrom says it’s a known fact that active seniors love to travel and the county makes travel preparations easier. “We have a Public Health Travel Immunization Clinic right here, where they can get all the shots they need to travel the globe.”

The UAAAA, Colorado Central mountain region (13) is responsible for providing senior support services for residents and their caregivers. Located at 139 East 3rd Street in Salida, the region serves Lake, Chaffee, Fremont and Custer counties.

Its focus is home-delivered meals, and health services including assistance with the cost of eyeglasses and dental care. It also provides housing information, in-home services and assistance with legal and insurance questions. It plays a continuing role in consumer education and advocacy for seniors, raising awareness of opportunities for seniors to make a difference in their communities.

The Chaffee County Health Coalition (including more counties than just Chaffee), organized three years ago and meets every two months. Recognizing senior numbers were growing twice as fast as other age groups, the group asked Marilyn Bouldin to lead a task force to address gaps in senior resources and services.

“We outlined what was needed, and Dee Dubin made a cold call to a new group in Denver’s Wash Park called “A Little Help,” said Bouldin. “We said we’re struggling, we need your help. We met with director Paul Ramsey, who had a second home in Salida. In 2015 we became the first rural chapter of A Little Help. We’ve been able to access all their resources – a wonderful partnership.”

A Little Help expanded to Delta County in 2016. It is associated with the Village to Village Network, a nonprofit that connects senior villages around the country, with Generations United, a nonprofit which improves the lives of children, youth, and older adults through inter-generational collaboration, public policies, and programs.

Chaffee County Department of Human Services is charged with the task of qualifying seniors no longer able to live alone, for assisted living facilities. Unfortunately, for Chaffee and Lake County seniors, that means a major move because the closest assisted living facilities are in Alamosa and Canôn City. Chaffee County has only Columbine Nursing Home as an option.

“We desperately need assisted living facilities in rural counties,” said Bouldin. “We don’t have that, so we find that if people get a little help, they can remain at home.”

Bouldin agrees that seniors are very proud, and most don’t like to ask for help.

A Little Help would like to help more seniors. “We have over 30 senior members right now, and close to 70 active volunteers. We wish more people would come forward for help. When we started, there used to be a yearly fee to join to get services, but now we do a ‘pay what you can.’ We don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t come to us,” she explained.

This year A Little Help expands to Buena Vista.

“There is such a need for this,” said Bouldin. “We’re filling a gap. We make warm welcome visits first, so they get to know us. Our half-time paid coordinator Nancy Powers sets up senior services. We often connect seniors with younger people, building their connection to the community. We work with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Crest Academy, to do what we call Service Saturdays.”

Bouldin also hosts an every-other-Tuesday seniors radio show at 2 p.m. on 106.9 KHEN radio. The show is Podcast, meaning that anyone going to can simply click the link and listen at a time convenient to them.

Jan Wondra, managing editor of Ark Valley, lives in Chalk Creek Canyon where, when she’s not covering community and government issues related to our quality of life, she’s finishing a book. It’s topic, she assures us “is strictly fiction.”