The Baby Boomers Take Stock

"Hope I die before I get old," sang The Who in the iconic baby boomer anthem. Yet most of the boomers, born in the postwar years from 1946 to 1964, are still around. Are they living up to their other youthful slogans?

Seniors dressed as hippies doing the peace sign

The 2017 Medicare Open Enrollment period is almost over, and if you're a baby boomer, your mailbox has probably been stuffed with advertisements from insurance companies that hope you'll sign up for their plan. These aren't your mother's Medicare ads, adorned with images of happy seniors playing bingo or golf. Instead, the flyers feature Woodstock references, silver-haired surfers, and senior bikers astride their motorcycles with his-and-hers "BORN TO BE WILD" tattoos.

The baby boomers were expected to change aging. Pundits predicted that the boomers would be healthier and more active than their parents. Fifty years after the Summer of Love, how are the baby boomers doing?

"Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll" … and obesity

The baby boomers are a very diverse cohort, and followed different life paths. But for many, certain youthful lifestyle choices have had long-term consequences. Unprotected sex and drug experimentation left many with HIV/AIDS, HPV and hepatitis C infections. Even boomers who didn't use illegal drugs in their youth may have fallen prey to today's opioid crisis. As for rock 'n' roll, many boomers remain avid fans, but also suffer hearing loss from years of loud music. Some of our Vietnam veterans suffer from illnesses resulting from environmental and chemical hazards during their service. And while the health foods movement really took root during the 1960s and 1970s, even boomers who eat well often are eating too much. Studies project that by the time the last of the baby boomers reach Medicare age, in 2029, the rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions will be higher than among any previous generation.

"Do your own thing"

Boomers wanted to change the world, and experts say they certainly are changing the face of senior care. At the conclusion of the 1967 hippie-themed film, "Riot on Sunset Strip," the narrator intones: "Soon half the world's population will be under 25 years of age. They must go somewhere. Where will they go? What will they do?" This question could be updated today as the population of U.S. seniors heads for the 70 million mark.

Where will baby boomer seniors go as they need care? Some are moving to retirement communities or senior living facilities. But many are staying put. According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Society on Aging (ASA), only 3.2 percent of today's seniors are moving out of their homes each year — compared with 9 percent in 1970.

And who will care for them? The boomers experienced a higher rate of divorce, a substantially lower birth rate, and greater geographic mobility. So it's less likely that they have adult children nearby to provide care. And even if children are nearby, many boomers prefer not to receive care from them. The ASA article reported that in 1970, 16 percent of senior men and 31 percent of senior women chose to live with a non-spouse relative; among the boomers, only 10 percent of men and 19 percent of women are making that choice.

Instead, when boomers need care at home, more of them are turning to professionals. The ASA article author Stephen M. Golant noted, "Today's elders now benefit from an extensive and fast-growing infrastructure of home care services staffed by rehab professionals, and home health and personal care aides who help them recuperate from a hospital stay or receive long-term assistance with performing their self-care and homemaking activities. The hope is that this formal care will help compensate for the expected future decline in the availability of their family caregivers."

"Let's get together … "

One irony for the boomers — many of whom happily huddled in giant crowds at Woodstock or lived in communes — is that social isolation is more of a danger for them. The downside of the desire for independence is that they are at risk of becoming isolated. Senior support organizations recognize the need to encourage socialization and intergenerational connections as the boomers navigate a line between autonomy and loneliness.

This desire for independence is why home care is expected to continue to be a growing field. And boomers, take notice — hiring a caregiver through an agency that recruits, screens, trains and supervises their caregivers, as well as handles payroll taxes and liability, means you don't have to become "the man" (that's hippie-speak for "the boss"), with all that entails.

"Never trust anyone over 30"

Although the activist who coined this phrase later protested that it was taken out of context, the slogan was nonetheless taken up by many young boomers … who today can wryly note "bad karma" and "what goes around comes around" as they encounter vocal detractors of their own generation. Now it's their turn to be blamed for the nation's woes!

Yet derogatory comments about the boomers fail to recognize the vast diversity in this age group. Many need to work to make ends meet, but face ageism in hiring. Many are far from wealthy, relying on Social Security and other senior support programs to get by.

Despite today's generational friction, many boomers continue to strive to change the way we think and talk about aging, challenging young people to examine stereotypes about growing older. Boomers also are putting their own preconceived notions under the microscope, hoping to leave a legacy of more positive aging for the generations to come.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.