Tuesday, April 24, 2007

When Boomers Go Senior

Our society has an obsession with longevity and youthfulness. That’s not all bad. But the fact of the matter is that every day that you live is another day that your body ages.

The baby boomer generation has redefined every facet of life into which they have been thrust. They were the first kids to be raised with a focus on advice from intellectuals. They were the first generation of teens whose rebellion against societal norms succeeded. Thus, many of them never really grew up and transitioned to the adult role. And they have raised wildly overindulged kids without self discipline. (If you thought the boomer motto was, “It’s all about me,” check out their offspring.)

Baby boomers have bucked the traditional middle age model and now they are on the brink of redefining retirement and what it means to be elderly. If you have any question about that, just check out a recent picture of the Rolling Stones or any surviving member of the Beatles (McCarney, Starr). Or for that matter, just check the mirror.

As boomers have aged the market has worked hard to meet their demands. Boomers have been the most affluent generation to ever live. McDonald’s came along to give fast food to young boomers. Starbucks is strictly a boomer phenomenon. When boomers aged enough to become aware of a need to eat healthier, Subway came along. But it goes far beyond commercial prepared food vendors. The job market, media, medicine, infrastructure, and even worship have evolved to cater to the boomer generation.

(By the way, on the media thing, I’d like whichever of you boomers out there that are creating demand for Rod Stewart music to cut it out. I mean, it’s no wonder so many boomers have switched to talk radio when that kind of stuff keeps blaring from FM radio stations. Isn’t four decades of that guy enough? At age 62, do you still think he’s sexy and want his body?)

You can expect to see the trend of catering to boomers to continue with respect to elder care over the next several decades as well. Elder care infrastructure has started to change as more seniors have ended up living far past retirement, many of them eventually developing some level of disability. Service facilities such as those offered by the Emeritus chain have sprung up around the nation to provide multiple levels of assisted living.

But we still have plenty of classical nursing homes. It would seem from news reports that a number of these facilities are understaffed or are staffed with underqualified people. They are firmly ensconced in the minds of most Americans as a desperate last resort. I mean no disrespect for the people that work hard in these facilities to properly care for patients, but there is a question as to whether they are overloaded.

As the most affluent generation to ever live reaches the advanced stages of life, you can expect to see changes to more flexible and more upscale elder care models that include many frills beyond absolute necessities. Some of this change will be welcome. But the cost is a concern. As we redefine the basic level of care upward, the cost will increase. Although competition may help contain costs, this is one of those areas where efficiencies based on economies of scale can only go so far.

Much of the work of caring for disabled individuals (among whose number you may someday be) requires physical labor and/or direct personal attention. Wages for caregivers can only be driven down to a certain point before quality declines to unacceptable levels. No, this is going to cost real money.

I am getting a private view of what it takes to care for people with disabilities as my father descends into stroke-induced dementia (multi-infarct or vascular dementia). As Dad’s needs increase, we work as a family to do what we can to care for him. Mom does her level best, but she’s no longer a spring chicken. The physical, mental, and emotional toll on her is quite steep.

My four brothers, my wife, and my sisters-in-law all pitch in to do what we can. Even my teenage sons help care for their grandpa. Dad can often hold coherent discussions, but he separates from reality and he can’t be left alone even for a few minutes. He can move around on his own and does not require lifting. We have made arrangements for the future, should Dad’s needs exceed what we as a family can personally supply. Boomers statistically have fewer children than did their parents. Will their families be able to provide the care they need as they move to that stage of life?

Over the next several decades, our elder care system will experience a bigger wave of clients than ever before. It will be interesting to see how the market fluctuates to deal with it. Hopefully we won’t move toward the knock-‘em-off-when-they’re-too-much-trouble model.


Jesse Harris said...

My dad is one of the people responsible for the demand for Rod Stewart. My apologies.

Reach Upward said...

I showed my teenagers a spoof on Kim Carnes' 1981 hit Bette Davis Eyes called Marty Feldman Eyes. They had never heard the original song. They didn't know anything about Kim Carnes and Marty Feldman. So I showed them Feldman pictures from Google Images and showed them Carnes' music video on YouTube. They were simply appalled that anyone with a voice like Carnes' could become popular or have a hit song. Of course, I quickly reminded them of the quality of some of the stuff that is popular with their peers today ....