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Idaho Going Gray Faster Than Most Influx Of Retirees Swells Over-65 Population

MONDAY, JAN. 5, 1998

Idaho fast is becoming a mecca for senior citizens.

By 2025, 1 in 5 people living in Idaho will be 65 or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The entire country is aging along with baby boomers, a population bubble that includes everyone between 33 and 52 years old today. But new census numbers show the population over age 65 is growing faster in Idaho than in all but two other states.

“What’s happening here in Idaho is quite an influx of retirees trying to get away from the crime-ridden East and West coasts,” said Gioia Frahm, a statistician with the Idaho Commission on Aging.

By 2025, the government predicts, Idaho will have the 10th-largest proportion of people 65 and older, up from the 40th-largest proportion of senior citizens in 1995.

Experts offer a variety of explanations for why Idaho’s population is going so gray.

“A lot of people are bringing their elderly parents here,” said Mary Larson, volunteer coordinator for senior programs in Boise.

In addition, people lured to Idaho in the 1990s by a red-hot economy are likely to stay, said Denice Goodrich Liley, an assistant professor at Boise State University who specializes in gerontology.

“People do not move as they age,” Liley said.

Arlene Davidson, director of the Idaho Commission on Aging, said the dramatic increase in the number of older people is going to change everything.

Plenty of business opportunities come along with an elderly population that is expected to live longer and be more active than ever before. They include adult day-care centers, in-home services, mental health services, fitness centers, preventive and alternative health care centers, restaurants, travel and entertainment.

Many of the opportunities will emerge as residents seek new ways to care for frail senior citizens. Low-cost alternatives to conventional nursing homes, such as adult day-care, and programs designed to keep older people healthy also will become more attractive as public assistance going to people over 65 struggles to keep up with that population’s growth.

Today the state relies heavily on nursing homes and the state-federal Medicaid program to care for medical and basic living needs of those who are elderly and poor, Davidson said.

People age 65 and older accounted for 8.7 percent of the state’s Medicaid recipients in fiscal year 1996. But they accounted for 30 percent of Medicaid spending. Most of the money was spent on nursing home care.

Davidson said that already is a serious concern for the state’s Medicaid program. And as more of Idaho’s population gets older, she said families, friends and private industry are going to have to step into the role government now plays.

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