In the 2010s, Saratoga made national news when it consistently ranked among the top 10 most expensive cities in which to buy a home, eventually topping the list in 2016. But much more quietly, the West Valley city of 30,000 has been trending far above the national average in another category — median age.
According to 2020 census data released last month, Saratoga’s was 50.5, nearly a dozen years older than the nationwide mean of 38.8, and outpacing all of its neighboring South Bay cities.
The census data showed a graying of the Bay Area in general — with a 38% spike in the region’s senior population over the last 10 years — and in Santa Clara County specifically, where seniors are expected to outnumber children under age 18 by the year 2030.
In Saratoga, where the median home price now tops $3.5 million, many of these aging residents are facing not only skyrocketing housing costs but also food insecurity, transportation challenges and more.
And as life gets tougher for seniors in the West Valley, it gets tougher for the organizations holding their safety net together, as well.
“The number of older adults is climbing. Everybody’s starting to shift the lens toward ‘What do these societal problems mean in light of an aging population?’” said Tylor Taylor, executive director of the Saratoga Area Senior Coordinating Council. “When you have an increased demand (for services) but the funding for those programs doesn’t have a commensurate increase, you’re really left trying to figure out how to patch it together.”
The council is one of a handful of senior service providers in the West Valley area that aim to make aging in Silicon Valley better. On top of a rapidly growing senior population, factors like cost of living, lack of affordable housing and staffing shortages are putting a strain on the senior service providers in the area.
Live Oak Adult Day Services, a daycare program for seniors in the county with moderate dementia, serves more than 90 older adults in the region and has been at maximum capacity for years.
Three of its four locations — in Willow Glen, Cupertino and Gilroy — reopened after the pandemic, and each has about 30 members. More than 40 seniors are on the waiting list, Peterson said, but they hope the newly reopened Los Gatos location will be able to accommodate some of them.
“The waitlists were really awful when we came out of COVID and reopened. We still have a long waitlist in San Jose; you just can’t take everybody,” said Ann Peterson, the group’s executive director. “The seniors love our program. They wake up on a Saturday and get dressed and want to come, but we’re closed.”
Looking ahead, Peterson said they are hoping they can expand to a fifth location in East San Jose, but that would require financial support from the city and county.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors last month approved $3 million in funding to be divided among several programs including Live Oak, but Peterson said they’d need to set aside more — enough to cover staffing costs and rent.
County support helped save SASCC’s senior center, which was set to close down in 2015 when Supervisor Joe Simitian struck a deal with Saratoga. The county paid $40,000 to keep the doors open, while the city contributed $22,000.
The West Valley’s network of senior service organizations is also a front line in fighting the social isolation that many older adults feel, and which can negatively impact their mental health, said Patricia Simone, director of the gerontology program at Santa Clara University.
Nearly a quarter of older adults are considered socially isolated and are at an increased risk for loneliness, according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
“People with dementia tend to have one thing in common, and that’s social isolation,” Simone said. “It could just be a contributing factor, or it could be a consequence of the dementia. But it’s not just cognition that takes a hit. … It’s also general health and satisfaction with life.”
While social programs are important, some seniors are facing financial challenges surrounding housing, food security and lack of transportation.
Taylor, who served on Santa Clara County’s Senior Care Commission for eight years, said the most popular service for seniors is RYDE, a transportation service that offers seniors car rides for just 90 cents one way or $1.80 round trip around the West Valley.
Seniors can call a coordinator to set up their ride, but Taylor said SASCC is already laying the groundwork to create a web platform and phone app for the future generation of seniors who are more familiar with technology.
Cupertino-based West Valley Community Services launched a mobile food pantry for its clients in 2021 that visits various senior centers and churches. Kohinoor Chakravarty, chief development and communications officer, said dozens of seniors shop for free shelf-stable groceries every week.
The cost of living in the West Valley is high, and seniors who once were able to sell their homes and move into retirement communities or assisted living are being met with increasing rents that eat into their fixed incomes. Those communities or facilities can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 a month.
“People who are not in affluent areas, their situation is a lot more dire when it comes to housing,” Taylor said. “The number of unhoused adults has been really increasing. We are working with our community partners to go out and talk to unhoused older adults to see what help we can provide them.”
Los Gatos Town Manager Laurel Prevetti is working with SASCC to address older adult homelessness among its residents. The town allocated $50,000 to address homelessness earlier this year.
“A lot of these challenges seem almost insurmountable, but if everybody will do their part, then we can make good things happen,” Simitian, the county supervisor, said. “Working together, we can do more than any one of us can do individually.”
In its next chapter, SASCC is adapting to these new challenges and changing its name to Successfully Aging Solutions and Community Consulting, which better reflects the work it hopes to accomplish, Taylor said.
“We need to structure how older adults fit into those parameters, and then create some systems of support for the problems they face, and that’s one thing kind of missing right now,” Taylor said.
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