Healthy Independent Living

Contributed by Jim Faiks

Did you know that Alaska has the highest ratio of baby boomers to the total population compared with any of the lower 48 states? 

Our neighbors, aged 65 and older, represent the fastest growing segment of Alaska’s population.  In fact, our senior growth rate is four times the national average. Young adults came to Alaska in big numbers during the oil boom of the 70s and 80s, and many stayed. Now that their children and grandchildren live here, seniors are not leaving.

It is quite obvious that seniors love Alaska, and that they love the Mat-Su in particular. It is estimated that by the year 2030 our senior population will double and even triple for those aged 75 to 85.  Accommodating this “graying tsunami” poses challenges and great opportunities for our communities.

Many seniors are staying active and healthy well into their 90s, and they strive to remain independent for as long as possible. (I recently met a lady in her late 80s who competes in the senior Olympics doing the hammer throw. That’s impressive.) One challenge all seniors face is finding a home that provides a barrier-free design so they can live there comfortably as they age (like a fine wine).

The housing options for Valley seniors are growing, but most of these homes are rentals with income restrictions. In addition, most are located in larger adult communities like the Palmer Senior Center, the Wasilla Senior Center and some private developments. There are also smaller, ranch style home developments in Willow and Houston for those who prefer a more natural setting. Most of these homes have a waiting list, a sensitive subject for seniors.

This spring, the community of Big Lake is introducing its first gated subdivision designed for those newly retired. Comfortably located just a mile from the town center is the Oasis at Birch Lake. This new 22 unit development is out of the wind-belt of Palmer and Wasilla and offers high quality yet affordable lakefront homes with not a step to be found.  

The first four homes are nearing completion just in time for the returning swans and sand hill cranes. Alaskan seniors know the importance of southern exposure for one’s mental and physical health, and sunshine is abundant at the Oasis. The view of the mountains is an extra plus.  

Seniors are cost conscious and appreciate the five star plus energy ratings along with the convenience of natural gas. This project even has free RV parking for the “snow birds”.  You can see more pictures of the Oasis on Facebook at “The Oasis at Birch Lake”.  

Seniors provide a positive economic boost to local businesses while at the same time requiring fewer community services. They don’t need a school for their children and they don’t keep law enforcement as busy as does the younger population. Instead, they like to volunteer locally and they eat early at our restaurants. Having many housing options for our seniors is good for all businesses in the Valley.