A New Definition of Old for Baby Boomer Generation

Figuring out how to live independently is one of the many challenges facing the aging baby boomer generation.

| September 2014

  • As the baby boomer generation ages, the percentage of Americans over 65 is expected to increase to 17 percent by 2020.
    Photo by Fotolia/Marco Antonio Fdez.
  • “With a Little Help From Our Friends,” by Beth Baker, looks at how people are pursuing the dream of living independently as they progress into the next phase of life.
    Cover courtesy Vanderbilt University Press

With a Little Help From Our Friends (Vanderbilt University Press, 2014), by journalist and author Beth Baker, tells of how baby boomers are living independently as they approach retirement, but ensuring that they are surrounded by a circle of friends, family and neighbors. The following excerpt, from the first chapter "The End of Denial: Taking Charge of How We Live," gives a brief background of the changing views of older people and the challenges facing the baby boomer generation.

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Lynne, a fifty-something dietician in Port Gibson, Mississippi, has had a fantasy for years. When she grows older, rather than move to a retirement community or live alone, she and a handful of close friends will find a way to be together. “We talked about buying a piece of property and building us a place to live,” she said. “We envisioned maybe a round building, where everyone had their own apartment, to come and go as they please, but also a central living area. We would be some place we had chosen as a group. We would hire someone to cook and clean for us. That would be a way of taking care of each other, but still have privacy.”

Conversations like this are happening all over the United States, as my generation of baby boomers realizes that middle age will soon be in the rearview mirror. And then what?

That question often arises as we struggle to assist our parents, now very old, as they lose mobility, lose memory, lose independence. We see them, whether resistant or acquiescent, cheerfully accepting or refusing “to go gentle,” and it is troubling, even terrifying, to imagine ourselves in their shoes. Can it really be that in a blink of an eye the baby boomer generation will be the ones our own children fret about? Will we face the same limited choices as our parents?

And will we continue the age-old practice of denial? The SCAN Foundation, which focuses on transforming health care, including long-term care, in ways that foster independence, dignity, and choice as we grow older, has held focus groups around the country of people who are forty to sixty-five years old and who have been family caregivers. What these conversations revealed was that participants of all ethnic and class backgrounds were unable to imagine themselves as growing frail and needing help. “They can describe the experience of caregiving very accurately,” said foundation CEO Bruce Chernof, MD, in an interview. “People acknowledge it was a lot of work. Generally people were caring for someone who was a family member or close friend and they felt a lot of pride in what they had done. Even though they could intellectually describe it, when they applied that knowledge to themselves, they couldn’t do it.” It’s almost as if we are hard-wired to not imagine our own vulnerability.

10/22/2014 1:02:42 PM

Very well written piece. The "Aging in Place" concept is a logical wish for seniors who want to remain tied to their community rather than be moved to a senior living facility without the comforts of home. And that community aspect, mentioned here, can be critical as we age, since senior isolation is of growing concern in today's day and age. I'm especially interested in the the up-and-coming senior cohousing movement, which aims to satisfy both the idea of aging in place and meet that critical social need. There's more info at http://www.cohousingpartners.com/services/senior-cohousing/ and in Architect Charles Durrett's book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Senior-Cohousing-Handbook-Independent/dp/0865716110/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0QPY39SK8D3FDEQJJ6PS. Community support is critical! - Jenny

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