AUSTIN (KXAN) – Walking through the Age of Central Texas in Central Austin during standard working hours, the chances of spotting an older adult wearing a large smile is near certain.
The Central Texas-based nonprofit has operated since the 1980s with the goal of making Austin and Central Texas a “great place to age.” And there certainly will not be a lack of people aging in the area over the coming years.
According to Census data, the older population – adults over 65 – has increased in the U.S. by 1,000% in the last century. Central Texas is the second fastest-growing area for people older than 65 in the U.S. and the fastest-growing region for people aged 50 to 64, according to population statistics.
“That’s a worldwide phenomenon that is happening. There are more older adults on our planet than there are children. And so services for older adults are becoming even more important,” said Rob Faubion, Chief Community Engagement Officer. “We’re living longer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re living healthier,” he continued.
Epidemic of loneliness
It is well documented that the COVID-19 pandemic caused many to feel lonely amid lockdown restrictions. But the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said in a 2023 report that there were signs of a loneliness epidemic even before this period.
A 2020 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine pointed out that around a third of Americans over 45 feel lonely, and around a quarter of all adults over 65 are socially isolated.
Loneliness and isolation can have profoundly deleterious effects on not only a person’s mental health but also their physical health. Murthy said a lack of social connections increases the risk of premature death akin to levels of smoking tobacco daily.
Some physical manifestations of isolation or loneliness include an almost 30% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke and a 50% increase in developing dementia in older adults, according to a 2023 Office of the Surgeon General press release.
“That’s how quickly [isolation] breaks down your body,” Faubion said. “So many of our programs are built around helping older adults be able to socialize, to be able to get together to break down that isolation so that we can help slow their aging and cognitive decline.”
Meeting a need
Faubion said Age of Central Texas has several programs that aim to combat isolation in older adults. For one, they have a health equipment lending program that gives out slightly-used medical devices to people with mobility issues so they can get out and socialize more.
There is also the Thrive Social and Wellness Centers, of which there are two locations with a third opening up later this year, that offer daytime care for older adults with physical needs or memory loss.
“These are designed like a social club for older adults who can’t stay at home by themselves during the day,” Faubion said. “It’s a great place to break down that social isolation. We have seen how this works. We know that folks who have been attending our program have seen higher levels of socialization [and] they have had their cognitive [abilities] actually improve because of their attendance,” he said.
Since opening its doors, the center said it has served around 3,000 families annually, meaning it helped ten of thousands in the last two decades. Faubion said Age of Central Texas is excited to expand even more when it opens its new center in south Austin.
In addition to reducing symptoms of loneliness, research shows adult day center facilities can increase access to important services, and have beneficial physical health-related outcomes as well as psychological and behavioral ones.
Faubion said that Age of Central Texas has operated its adult daytime care centers for over two decades, the longest-running of its kind in the region. He said this center helps families keep their loved ones at home longer before having to transition them to a long-term care community, which can be much more costly than daytime care.
The cost is $75 a day and accepts payments from Medicaid, Veteran’s Administration benefits and long-term care insurance, Faubion said.
“We have sliding scale as well. We will never, ever turn anyone away from our services,” he said.
Faubion said the biggest limitation to the non-profit’s work is staff and money.
“We rely on the community foundations and corporations’ support so that we’re able to provide our services. Our limitations are the same as practically any business,” he said.
“Over the next several decades, there [will be] more older adults than children in Central Texas,” Faubion said. “Services for older adults are becoming even more important.”
How you can help
Age of Central Texas says that volunteers are essential to its program’s success. Volunteers can offer up their time by themselves or in a group.
Age of Central Texas also accepts donations.
What is “solutions journalism?” First launched at KXAN in 2019, this reporting method has been labeled “hope with teeth” or “the whole story.” It allows our team to take an uplifting, positive approach to storytelling while also maintaining the critical, in-depth reporting that makes KXAN unique. While other journalists often define news as “what’s gone wrong,” solutions journalism aims to expand that definition: responses to problems are also newsworthy. Explore our solutions stories and projects, and learn more about the concept from our partners at the Solutions Journalism Network.