There is a bubble of baby boomers now approaching their senior years just as the trajectory of our nation’s health care policy seems to be getting more confusing by the day. And reports tell us that we’re in for a massive shortage of general practice doctors. Yet, amid clouds of crisis, boomers appear to be thriving; they’re living longer, working longer, making (and spending) more money, staying active, and keeping up with the Joneses.
In Knoxville, the 50+ age group makes a $17.7 billion contribution to the economy, according to AARP. That share is a higher proportion than younger and more numerous groups.
Studies suggest that targeting brand-loyal Boomers is twice as effective as targeting slippery Millennials. Yet, only 5 percent of ad dollars are directed at this group.
before you buy shares of Depends and denture cream, look at the new definition of “old.” It’s smart, active, empowered, and beautiful. Fashion, luxury cars, and even new technologies are ready to help older people, with the most disposable income, redefine aging.
The largest consumer of Apple devices in terms of spending is a 65-year-old man (or older), as reported by CNN. New technologies locate your lost car, give you big phone buttons and zoom-in screens, track your pills and nutrition, and make Facebook easy. And automated, voice activated homes with smart locks, smart thermostats, motion-activated lights, etc., make life easy for the less mobile.
A Message of Hope and Empowerment / Successful Aging Brings New Services
Picture an assisted living facility packed with people of mixed ages, all eager to hear a geriatric medicine specialist talk about dementia and Alzheimer’s. Dr. Monica Crane came to deliver a message of hope. She glows with passion and excitement. “If you’ve survived long enough to get a neurological disease, congratulations. You’ve already aged successfully.” Dementia and Alzheimer’s are on the national radar because we now survive the heart attacks and strokes that used to kill us first. As Dr. Monica Crane, the founder of Genesis Brain Health Institute, notes, “Everybody who has a brain is at risk.”
Genesis, a Knoxville-based practice focused on preventative maintenance of the brain, offers patients full-featured medical assessments, plus guidance on diet, exercise, stress management, and “brain utilization.” As the saying goes, if you don’t use it, you lose it. And as your brain is, well, quite important, it’s no wonder many boomers are considering such services a good investment.
The Healthcare Sherpa
Pat Collins, owner of Maryville-based business Empowering Health Options, is part of a fledgling field across the country. Pat has become a Sherpa of sorts, guiding others along the paths of healthcare to keep them from getting lost along the way. She became a professional advocate after a career as a pharmacist and caring for her mother whose kidney failure may have been a result of the painkiller, Vioxx.
In America, there are some 250 private patient advocates who help their clients navigate the medical system. They recommend treatment and diagnostic options, find answers to unsolved health mysteries, and provide guidance for caregivers.
Patient advocates—such as Pat—help patients find the right specialists, provide guidance on which are the right tests, and help find ways for your treatment to be covered by insurance. They can also make nutrition recommendations and help find ways to manage chronic pain. And because such specialists are paid by the patient, their incentives are aligned. Whereas the approach of a doctor or hospital is likely to be effected by what insurance companies will reimburse, patient advocates have no such ties.
What’s Hot in Successful Aging: The Lifestyle Prescription for Wellness
These are some best practices that can benefit anyone, especially baby boomers:
The Diet: A Mediterranean diet includes fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains. Try extra virgin olive oil and salt on a mixed green salad, or gently heat some kale in a stir-fry pan as a side for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And, as inflammation is now known to play a role in a broad range of aging ailments (including arthritis and Alzheimer’s), an anti-inflammation diet may be your key to longevity. You’ll want at least 25 grams of fiber a day. Consider kicking off your morning with a cup of unsweetened oatmeal topped with some nuts and bananas or berries. Blueberries are especially high in antioxidants, another agent in the fight against an aging brain. Incorporate onions, okra, and eggplant into other meals to keep up your fiber intake.
Vitamins & Supplements: Try to eat fish (three servings a week) instead of just taking fish oil—fish has a wider range of nutrients than oil. Vitamin D and magnesium deficiencies are prevalent in the aging, and these nutrients play a key role in overall health. As it’s hard to get enough D through food alone, make sure your supplement has plenty.
The Exercise Program: Exercise for balance, strength and flexibility. Yoga is an excellent way to stay limber, and it’s also an opportunity to stay social on a regular basis. Weight training is also great, but know your limits and use a trainer or partner, particularly if you want to test and push yourself.
Brain Training: Now is your opportunity to read all the classic, landmark texts of Western civilization! Want a bigger challenge? Pick up a new language, and then put a dent in the great literature of other nations. Looking for something a bit more modern? Many computer stores offer free workshops where you can learn how to take full advantage of their devices and applications. Wherever your purpose and passion lies, it’s a good idea to keep a schedule, even after retirement.
Smoking and Drinking: We now know that alcohol can play a part in Alzheimer’s because of its role in inflammation. That said, a glass of wine a day is an oft-prescribed dose of health and happiness.
Sleep Deeply: Lack of deep sleep makes chronic pain worse and prevents the healing processes that occurs in REM sleep. If you’ve got sleep apnea, use your CPAP, and if you’re not sure if you have it, now is a good time to get tested.
Sleeping Pills, Allergy Medicines, and Pain Killers: Chronic pain is a vicious cycle. Pain killers can disrupt deep sleep, which is essential to all types of healing. Also, some allergy medicines are now linked to dementia. Seriously consider any alternatives you may have.
Stay Hydrated: Of course, drink lots of liquids, especially water, for a healthy mind and body.
Natural Cures and Alternatives: Believe it or not, some essential oils that are used in aromatherapy cross the blood brain barrier, allowing them to make a therapeutic difference. When researching your possibilities, it’s a good idea to consider the growing scientific consensus around non-prescription pill options.
One tenet of successful aging is to find purpose in your life. Through that purpose, your brain stays engaged, you’re socializing with others, and you’re happier. As a group, boomers plan to keep working, with half postponing retirement past 66, and 10 percent who say they will never retire, according to Gallup. Working past retirement age may be an economic necessity for some, but they may actually get more from doing so than they realize.
As boomers become caregivers for their parents, they see their own future. The growing demand has led to many new caregiver solutions and elder care options. Thus, they have the opportunity get educated on the options they may soon require for themselves.
It’s Never Too Late to Age Successfully
Dr. Crane’s message is a motivational one. “Age is meaningless. Genetics are not an inevitable outcome. Our paths are relatively similar up to certain point. The paths diverge at 65. That’s when your past catches up with you. There are things in your control that you can fix. It’s never too late to start.” She speaks of an 80-year-old patient who recently started road races and is bringing home trophies because she is the only one in her age group. “I want to see her have more competition.”
Be old. Get happy.