multigeneration portraitThis is the first in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at

By Taryn Hojlo

The Alamo Area Agency on Aging has a lot of ground to cover.

The agency serves a dozen rural Texas counties surrounding San Antonio. About a half-million people live in those counties, a combined territory larger than the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware put together.

Trina Cortez was beginning to work on a draft of the Alamo AAA’s upcoming bi-annual area report and she wanted to track correlations between the level of elder expenses and service referrals for members. To do that, she needed a source that could accurately calculate the true cost living for older adults in individual counties.

The agency had struggled to make assessments like that in their previous plans. Then, Cortez discovered the Elder Index.

The easy-to-use online index, operated by the University of Massachusetts Boston, allows visitors to calculate the cost of living for older adults in every U.S. county and state. The index website, which can be used free of charge, displays that information based on the health, living and marital status of older adults selected by users.

“It was able to show the significant cost of living in our rural areas,” said Cortez. “As people spend more of their income on rent and utilities, they tend to use more of our services, whether they’re short term or long-term services.”

Most of the counties within the Alamo district are made up of farming and ranching communities, some with as few as 80 residents. But living in a rural setting doesn’t mean the cost of living for older adults is necessarily more affordable.

Take Gillespie County, located north of San Antonio in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. It covers more than a thousand square miles but counts fewer than 30,000 residents.  Still, the Elder Index clearly shows how older adults there face significant costs of living.

A simple exercise: Enter Gillespie County into the location box on the landing page of the Elder Index website, then add the state of Texas as a second a location. Next, use the filter box to focus on single renters in good health. Then hit the “apply” button.

The results: Those older adults in Gillespie County could expect a monthly cost of living of $2,111 – somewhat more than the comparable statewide total of $1,993 per month for Texas. Higher county health care costs are a big part of that story, the index’s expense breakdowns show.

The calculations for counties in the Alamo AAA region are far from uniform. Some are less expensive than the Texas statewide average. But two other counties were also more expensive, using those same filters. An additional two were nearly as expensive as the statewide average, coming in less than $20 per month cheaper.

A change in the calculation’s personal filters can also make a difference. Track the Alamo AAA region again, this time measuring costs for older married couples in good health owning a home with no mortgage. The new results show six counties appear to be more expensive than the Texas average for comparable older adults.

Like the rest of the country, the Alamo AAA area is getting older. A report prepared by the agency in 2017 showed how its population had shifted by age over the previous five years. It reported double-digit percentage growth in most older-adult categories. The largest percentage increases, by far, among all age categories took place among adults age 65-69 and 70-74.

The Alamo AAA helps connect those older adults with the best local resources available, and updates their Area Plans every two years to help identify areas in need of additional support. By providing a clearer picture of elder economics in each county, the agency can better prepare for member needs.

Understanding the true cost of living for older adults is an important part of the process.