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Number of older adults in Rochester grows —faster than any other city in New York state

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Group of older adults

The Rochester region is going gray — and faster than any other area of the state, according to a study from the Center for an Urban Future, released in January 2023.

The number of people 65-plus increased by 64% in Rochester in the past 10 years, followed by Saratoga County (50%) and Syracuse (43%).

The U.S. Census indicates that the percent of people 65-plus in Ontario County increased from 15.4% 2010 to 21.5% in 2020.

The state’s life expectancy declined early in the pandemic, dipping from 80.7 in 2019 to 77.7 in 2020, which indicates it was likely a statistical effect because of coronavirus. Despite this decrease in lifespan, the 85-plus group grew by 3% from 2011 to 2021, faster than the 1.8% growth in population.

One reason for fewer younger people in New York is the mass exodus from New York.

In 2021, more people moved out of New York (63.1%) than into it (36.9%), according to a report released by United Van Lines.

New York had the third-highest rate of people leaving, surpassed only by New Jersey (70.5%) and Illinois (67.2%). The trend continues from 2020 (66.9%), 2019 (63.1%), 2018 (61.5%), 2017 (60.6%), 2016 (62.8%), 2015 (64.7%) and, the earliest year for which data is available, 2014 (64.1%). This data does not include people using other moving services or moving themselves.

The most recent United Van Lines study stated the reasons for leaving New York included family (29.4%) and for those with multiple reasons, reasons included retirement (28.95%); work (25.72%); lifestyle (24.28%); cost (11.69%); and health (7.02%).

The reason affecting older adults the most — retirement — is comparable to the one affecting younger adults — work — indicating that the declining population numbers is not primarily driven by retirees moving to warmer climes. The exodus from New York doesn’t correlate with other northeastern states with equally cold climates. None of the New England states but Rhode Island has experienced more moving out than moving in.

Ann Cunnigham

Ann Cunnigham

Ann E. Cunningham, executive director of Oasis Rochester, partially attributes the shift toward larger older adult populations to more people living a healthy lifestyle.

“The implications for all aspects of our society suggest there will need to be a reimagining of the retirement years, which include working longer, finding more opportunities to develop social connections and ways to access health, wellness and lifelong learning opportunities,” Cunningham said.

The Oasis Rochester, along with the nationwide network of Oasis chapters, offers workforce development, technology literacy and lifelong learning to promote healthy aging through engaging programming.

Typically, older adults need more community resources for healthcare and support in activities of daily living than younger people. That is particularly true for those with limited financial resources.

The Center for an Urban Future report revealed that 21.7% of older adults live in poverty in Rochester, ahead of Syracuse (21.6%) and the Bronx (25%).

Across New York, the rate of poverty among 65-plussers increased by 37.4% between 2011 and 2021, undoing years of declines in senior poverty rates. This may be in part explained as a statistical anomaly, as in recent years, those financially able to move out of state have left behind more older adults who lack the means.

Anne Marie Cook

Anne Marie Cook

Some people need more help as they grow older and 80% of those who do require help rely on family and friends to help with their needs, according to Ann Marie Cook, president and CEO of Lifespan.

“When people do need assistance, we do have a network of providers who can provide everything from a complete social work assessment to friendly ‘check-in’ callers, to companion services to home care to short-term respite to placement in long-term care facilities. We have a network of transportation providers, home care providers, chore services and more,” Cook said.

Before the pandemic, most people preferred to age in place at home and the pandemic only underscored that preference. Cook believes that aging in place at home will continue as a trend, assisted by technology to provide a greater measure of safety for medication dispensing, sensors to ensure the senior has not fallen or left the stove on, and health monitoring.

She noted that technology can also help people stay more active and connected.

“Supporting older adults as their needs increases includes several strategies, such as providing more funding for nonprofits serving older adults; developing more options for affordable housing; and cultivating strategies to address social needs including transportation, food and medical care access, elder abuse and mental health issues,” Cook said.

Lauren Goetz

Lauren Goetz

Lauren Goetz owns Everyday Hands in Rochester. Her company provides light housekeeping, companion care, grocery shopping, light meal preparation and transportation and support with errands, mostly to older adults (although 20% of her clients are younger people). She views her services as a means to help older adults stay independent in their own homes for longer. The rate is $65 an hour rate with a one-hour minimum. Many older adults need help for just a few hours a week to remain in their homes safely. Most companion care services require two hours three to four times a week as the minimum.

“Wouldn’t you rather spend your time as the sandwich generation with your family doing something besides housework and things anyone could do?” Goetz said. “It does save money. If we’re doing the laundry, we’re reducing the likelihood someone will fall taking it down the stairs.”

Her company serves many people whose adult children lack the time or proximity to help with activities of daily living. Everyday Hands also checks on the welfare of older adults living alone as “eyes on the ground,” Goetz added.

One of the gaps in service providers she identified is working through hoarding situations, as many organizers won’t address these problems. With too much clutter in the way, the senior is at risk for falls and the inability of emergency care providers removing them from their home.

“Until I got into this work,” she said, “I had no idea how common hoarding is. They’re almost always highly educated collectors of things.”

She would also like to see more home remodeling companies in the area to help with adding accessible features to homes and renovating dwellings so that the first floor offers a bathroom, laundry and bedroom.

Irene Coveny

Irene Coveny

Supports for aging in place is also on the mind of Irene A. Coveny, director of the Ontario County Office for the Aging. The shortage of caregivers represents a top need in the area.

“There’s no one at home,” she said. “The needs of older adults have become higher level because people can’t get the care they need at hospitals. They’re sent home faster and sicker, and their families are looking at how to take care of them physically. It’s a big issue.”

Coveny thinks that the low pay in this field is one reason fewer people want to apply for these jobs.

She also believes that providing non medical services earlier for four to six hours a week can delay the need for higher and more expensive medical care.

Many older adults who no longer drive or are recovering from illness or injury lack transportation. Public transportation is inexpensive. However, numerous areas in the region have no dependable public transportation and drivers are not permitted to assist riders to the door or help them take groceries inside. Ride share programs are both expensive and require technology to access, both of which may prove barriers to some older adults.

The Department of Aging receives funding to contact with Rochester Transit Service, Finger Lakes Bus service and Gogo Grandparent, a service app that acts as a middleman with Uber, Lyft, Instacart and other app-based services.

Users can call Gogo Grandparent using even a landline phone and an operator sets up whatever app-based service they need.

“It’s so helpful, as they do all the coordination,” Coveny said. “It saves dollars on our end. Once we set it up, people can use it any time. We use it specifically for medical appointments. On occasion, we’ll use it for people getting to dialysis or visit their spouse in a hospital or nursing home.”

The department also coordinates programs for volunteers to provide transportation, grocery shopping and meal delivery. Personal emergency response buttons are also available.

Coveny said that these programs and services help keep people safely at home for four to five years longer.

Families should call NY Connects to discuss resources for aging in place: 585-325-2800 or 1-800-342-9871. The local office for the aging can also recommend resources. In Monroe County, call 585-753-6280. In Ontario County, call 585-396-4040. In Wayne County, call 315-946-5624.