A decade ago, my boomer-age sister accompanied my then 80-something mother to the doctor. The doctor said he always took his elderly patient’s blood pressure, as well as the blood pressure of the grown daughter or son with the patient.
Almost always, the grown child’s blood pressure was worse than the parent’s. The stress of the sandwich years, the doctor theorized.
When I heard the anecdote, I wondered then if boomers would have the longevity everyone predicted for them. Would they perhaps die younger than anyone expected for reasons not yet apparent?
I checked out my wondering with a friend who is a health care futurist in the Washington, D.C., area, and he said, no, he hadn’t seen any data supporting boomers not living in great numbers into older age.
That was 10 years ago. Recently, two troubling reports made me wonder again.
The National Academy of Sciences recently reported that when the United States is compared to 16 peer countries, Americans have the least chance of making it to age 50, and if they do make it there, they are sicker with chronic illnesses and have a greater chance of dying than their counterparts in those other countries.
And on May 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a fairly shocking report. From 1999 to 2010, suicide rates for adults ages 50 to 59 jumped nearly 50 percent. Suicides among that cohort of boomers increased more than any other age group.
The economic downturn has been cited as one reason, as has prescription drug addiction and the stress of being caught in that caregiving sandwich.
My boomer friends and acquaintances have their theories that may or may not be borne out by research, including:
• Dashed expectations.
Boomers came of age in the 1960s and early 1970s – boom time in America. Many dads had good jobs. Many moms could stay home. Homes, cars, lake cabins and college educations were within reach of most middle-class families.
The environment you experience as a child often roots the expectations you carry into adulthood. That’s why Depression-era children grew up believing that money and goods would always be scarce.
Some boomers thought the cheap times of plenty would continue for them throughout their lives – and be guaranteed for their children. That hasn’t happened for most boomers.
• The end of youth and health.
Chronic illnesses – and everyday aches and pains – seem to surprise boomers. Perhaps our parents and grandparents didn’t talk enough about the aging process, how they had to sometimes force themselves out of bed each morning, due to bodies betrayed by time.
Aging happens, no matter how you prepare – or don’t prepare. Some friends recently were comparing their hands and noted how arthritis had distorted their once perfect fingers. It’s surprising to see what aging does. We should have known what was coming our way, but most of us didn’t.
• The focus on work and ‘toys.’
Many boomers depended on work for their sense of identity and purpose. As you retire, or lose your job due to the economic downturn, your identity can exit the workplace, too.
Boomers were also the generation behind the greed-is-good 1980s. Ultimately, things don’t make you that happy. Those with the most toys don’t really win in the end.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE: The Wall Street Journal recently profiled 20-something authors who have written books on “life lessons for starter adults.”
Kelly Williams Brown, 28, wrote “Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps.”
Brown told the Wall Street Journal that she is scatterbrained, so every time she leaves the house she has a shortcut word – phokeywa – to remember her phone, keys and wallet.
Not a bad idea to steal, though I would extend the word to phokeywagla. Gla, for glasses, of course.
BEYOND PAC-MAN: Aging folks who play video games may be keeping their brains sharper, according to the online science journal, PLoS ONE. Even better than crossword puzzles. Any recommendations on fun video games for aging boomers?
THIS WEEK, A SAMPLING:
• “From Sea to Sea: The Panama Canal and Jungle” travelogue, Wednesday, 7 p.m., Coeur d’Alene Public Library, 702 E Front Ave., (208) 769-2315.
• Reverse mortgage seminar, Thursday and Friday, 1 p.m., Shadle Public Library, 2111 W. Wellesley Ave., Spokane, (509) 623-1623.
• Floods, Flowers, and Feathers Festival, Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, located 4.2 miles south of Cheney, off Cheney-Plaza Road, Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., (509) 235-4723.
For more activities, go to Spokane7.com.