Alaskans age 60 and older generate $1.2 billion in government medical benefits and income, and caring for seniors is becoming one of the state’s largest industries, according to a state report.According to the Alaska Commission on Aging, Alaskans over 60 will triple by 2025 and make up a larger portion of the state’s population. Census data from 2000 listed roughly 53,000 Alaskans in that age group, a figure that should climb to 165,000 in 2025. The U.S. population of people age 60 and older is similarly predicted to increase.The swelling population of older Alaskans will require three times the current amount of medical care, housing and transportation, according to state statisitics.A new facilityProvidence Horizon House opened a new 22-bed dementia care unit in August called Ed’s Place, attached to Horizon House, its existing assisted-living facility. Ed’s Place was named for Ed Komp, whose family moved him to Alaska from Wisconsin to care for him here, said Sue Samet, Horizon House director.Komp moved to Horizon House, but his condition eventually required specialized care, and he moved Outside since such services were not offered in Alaska at that time. He now lives in Wisconsin.The experience led Samet to develop ideas for the unit, working with registered nurse Carlie Holmberg, who handles Horizon House resident services."Ed’s become a real symbol to us," Samet said.Horizon House and Ed’s Place are run by Providence Health System in Alaska. The $2.5 million cost to build the dementia care unit was paid for by Providence and an $872,000 grant from Alaska Housing Finance Corp., she said.Residents pay $175 per day at Ed’s Place, Samet said. For low-income residents, Medicaid pays $148 of that figure for services, but residents pay the rest for room and board, she said.Four people moved in Aug. 12, two weeks before a grand opening. Ed’s Place is gearing up slowly due to staff training and should be full by December, Samet said.Providence officials spent six years developing Ed’s Place, including nearly two years crafting designs with Anchorage architect Kumin Associates Inc., she said."What we wanted was an environment where they felt comfortable and safe," Samet said.The designers endeavored to create an environment to comfort people with Alzheimer’s disease who often feel lost or confused, said Ralph Clampitt, project architect.Ed’s Place has two wings, each with 10 bedrooms. One unit on each wing is a double bedroom, for couples, or friends. Each bedroom is located off the family room. Long hallways are not incorporated in the new building since they can be imposing to some people with Alzheimer’s disease, Clampitt said.Kumin Associates is using its experience designing Ed’s Place to pursue another project for older Alaskans, Clampitt said.Employees are relieved to have security doors requiring a code at Ed’s Place, preventing residents from wandering away and getting lost in the city, she said.Meantime, many residents of the nearby Horizon House assisted-living facility are parents of adult Alaska residents, who are increasingly choosing to retire in the state rather than Outside and want nearby care for their aging family members, Samet said.Numbers are also expected to increase for people with Alzheimer’s disease. The disease afflicts one in 10 people older than 65 and half of people older than 85, according to the Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Agency of Alaska.Four million Americans have the disease now, but that figure is expected to climb to 22 million by 2025, agency officials said.Other types of facilities in the state serve aging Alaskans who are not suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.The state Division of Senior Services now licenses 138 assisted-living homes in Alaska, like Horizon House, with 1,485 beds, according to Dwight Becker, division program coordinator.Most Horizon House residents are in their 80s, and some are in there 90s. There is one resident who is 100 years old, Samet said.They are either affluent or low-income people, who receive Medicaid support for care services but pay their own room and board, she said.The problem nationally and in Alaska will be to provide housing for people with mid-range incomes as the population of older Americans increases, she said. Middle-income Americans may have trouble financing health care needs without Medicaid support or sufficient personal finances.Regulating health care facilitiesState and health care officials will meet this month to update a three-year plan that outlines services provided by the Alaska Commission on Aging, said Linda Tohl, associate coordinator for the commission’s nutrition and transportation program.The commission administers state and federal grants for meals at senior centers and transportation services, Tohl said.A new health care plan is valuable, but Alaska faces challenges to provide housing for older Alaskans, said Laraine Derr, president of the Juneau-based Alaska State Hospital & Nursing Home Association.Alaska now has 15 nursing homes with about 700 beds, according to Linda Fink, the association’s assistant director. That number has not increased in five years despite waiting lists at facilities, Derr said. Nursing homes provide more medical care than assisted-living facilities.The state regulates all health care facility construction by requiring approval for projects of more than $1 million. Such regulation comes because so many state dollars are spent in support of the Alaska Medicaid program.While facilities in Valdez and Juneau are applying to add nursing home beds to fill the growing need, "the state keeps a lid on the number of beds" through the approval process, Derr said."It’s part of the dilemma we face," Derr said.Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage operates a unit providing nursing care for older Alaskans for 90-day stays rather than long-term care, Fink said.Independent living as another optionMeeting housing needs for aging Alaskans also is a leading issue this year for Cook Inlet Housing Authority, a nonprofit affiliate of Cook Inlet Region Inc.CIHA is now building a 53-unit independent living apartment complex in Anchorage. Any low-income older Alaskan will be eligible to live at Kenaitze Point, which should be finished in February. Kenaitze Point and CIHA’s 215 other rental properties are available to all Alaskans based on income, said Jeff Judd, operations director.Two projects started this year, Kenaitze Point and Strawberry Village Cottages, represent the first time in nearly 10 years CIHA has built new facilities, said spokeswoman Amy Jennings.CIHA’s waiting list of two to three years dictated a need for more units, Judd said."We have about 200 senior households on the wait list for senior properties," Judd said.Kenaitze Point, a $10.6 million project, was financed primarily with state and federal grants, he said.CIHA also may build additional apartments for older Alaskans next year, Judd said. CIHA owns the Mary Conrad Center, an Anchorage nursing home, and leases it to Providence, he said.