Boomer Misconception

by Jerrold Bartholomew

I would like to take a moment to address what I believe to be a huge misconception – if not deception – by some in the elder care industry: that the ranks of seniors today are on the brink of exploding due to Baby Boomers crossing the threshold to the elder world of significant physical and mental decline, limited mobility and difficulty with the tasks of daily living. Let’s be honest: There is no such boom! It is really a wonderful bit of news that Americans are living longer and longer, with life expectancies now hitting unprecedented highs of upper 70’s or even 80’s in the case of some demographic groups. But, truth be told, this means that the Boomers – allegedly on the cusp of their twilight years – are really decades away from their final days. That is a great blessing and a product of our countless advances in science – pharmaceutical advances, early screenings and therapies, and lifestyle adjustments. In my own practice I see day in and day out that the Baby Boomers who reach out to me are contacting regarding their aging parents who are now in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. They are the children, not the seniors!

In his insightful book, The Age Curve, Kenneth Gronbach demonstrates that the elder care world is mistaken in believing that a tidal wave of newly baptized seniors is just around the corner. In fact, he argues, the whole industry is a couple of decades ahead of schedule in scrambling to build assisted living facilities and making similar preparations for the imminent onslaught. One only need be 50 to join AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons –a rather outdated age given the climbing life expectancy and increased quality of life we are seeing for seniors well into their seventies, eighties and nineties. A 50-year-old these days might easily still be taking care of a beloved grandparent! So much for talking points on the “sandwich generation” – it’s not quite that simple!

Americans continue to age, of course; it’s simply that we are not seeing tangible declines in well-being, health and overall quality of life until much later than the common wisdom – or the industry – might suggest. In some ways, this doesn’t make anything easier for families. There may be a larger network of family members to care for the aging loved one, since grandchildren may more easily be available as adults to care for an elder. But that doesn’t make it any less stressful for the family or the elder, especially in light of the disconnectedness that characterizes so many American families in our age. Furthermore, extended lifetimes can mean extended costs, especially where debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s impact the extent and duration of caregiving. Critical end-of-life conversations and financial preparations still need to take place, and are perhaps more important than ever. We just need to be honest about the timetable.

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