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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Ruth Jacobson enjoys time with her mother, Reuvo Bagley, in Salt Lake City. Jacobson calls and visits her mother regularly.

Ruth Jacobson, 52, knows first-hand the struggles of caring for aging parents. First, she watched — and helped — her mother, Reuvo Bagley, 83, struggle to care for Jacobson's diabetic father, David, until he recently passed away. Now she calls her mother every day, visits her regularly and accompanies her to the doctor.

"It gets really trying," she acknowledges. "It is so stressful to take care of them. ... A lot of it is attitude, you have to choose your attitude."

Jacobson is among those in the nation's youngest state who know first-hand the impact of an aging population. As the nation's baby boomers start to retire over the next few years, Utah's population is expected to age as well.

Still, Utah continues to have the nation's lowest median age, highest birthrate and highest rate of households with children, according to the 2005 American Community Survey, released today. It also has one of the nation's lowest percentages of households with senior citizens.

The nation's estimated median ages ranged from a high of 41.2 in Maine to Utah's low of 28.5.

Nationally, 23 percent of households included senior citizens age 65 or older, according to the survey. In Utah, that number was only 17.8 percent. Only Colorado and Alaska had fewer senior households.

An estimated 32.4 percent of Utah's households are married couples with children, the nation's highest rate.

Utah County had the highest estimated rate of households with children of Utah's counties included in the American Community Survey. Just over half the households in Utah County include children under age 18. And 84.5 percent of those households are headed by married couples.

Still, as baby boomers start to retire in the next five years, Utah is also going to face a dual challenge, said Alan Ormsby, director of the Division of Aging and Adult Services.

"The population is aging at the same time as we have a very young population," Ormsby said. "The young population is going to require a lot of funding for education. At the same time, in the next 20 years, our senior population is expected to explode."

Ormsby says providing adequate support for those who care for elderly relatives will be just one challenge the state faces. "It's a very tough job to be a caregiver," he said.

As a part-time caregiver, Jacobson credited the state's caregiver support program with helping her with monthly support groups and giving her care information such as help finding hospice care for her father before he died.

In 2005, the state program provided information to 9,323 people, brief assistance to 20,756 people, counseling to 1,949 and respite services for 572.

The respite services, which provide temporary services when caregivers need a day off, are the most expensive, about $1,000 per caregiver, Ormsby said.

Ormsby pointed to state figures that show a projected growth of 165 percent in the senior population by 2030. Still, he said Utah may be better off than some other states, some of which have communities where the elderly population is expected to top 50 percent.

"There are going to be states with the population over 65 growing fast, and the young population not growing at all," he said. "Utah may be lucky, if we can educate, train and retain our young people."

Utah already has one of the nation's highest dependency ratios, defined as the ratio of people under age 18 and over age 64, to the working-age population.

Utah's is 63.7. The nation's is 59.8. Only Florida and Arizona had higher dependency ratios.

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As the nation's baby boomers age, its dependency ratio will surpass Utah's, but only for a relatively short time, said Robert Spendlove, manager of demographic and economic analysis for the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget.

Spendlove pointed to a peak projected school-age population increase of 2.7 percent. The senior population, meanwhile is projected to peak at a 4.5 percent increase and "stay there for over a decade," he said.

"We don't really see the impact until about 2011," he said. "We're going to start feeling it."

The 2005 American Community Survey, released by the U.S. Census Bureau, for the first time includes key demographic social data for areas with populations of 65,000 or more. It covers only household populations and does not include college dormitories, nursing homes or other group quarters.

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com