Thursday, April 6, 2006
Healthy Older Boomers Will Change Society
By Ellen Driber-Hassall
GUEST COMMENTARY: Baby boomers are everywhere. Chances are you are one, too, if you are reading this article. I am. The oldest boomers will become 60 years old in 2006.
That means our parents most probably need some type of societal assistance to cope with everything from daily living activities to filing income taxes. Some boomers are grandparents themselves. So, where does this leave the typical baby boomer today?
The answer is somewhere in between personal retirement and rearing a family, and for most of us that is a very uncomfortable place to be. Also known as the sandwich generation, we face weighty decisions concerning parents, children, perhaps even grandchildren and ourselves.
The boomer generation is large, so large in fact the group will affect the entire senior population. The estimate is by 2010 there will be just over 40 million Americans over the age of 65. The U.S. Census Bureau projects there will be over 70 million people over the age of 65 by 2030. Boomers will, by the sheer size of their numbers, be a force to reckon with, but what makes this particular segment of society so different from their predecessors?
They are better educated, typically have had greater earning potential, have more disposable income and continue to be more politically vocal than any previous generation. To support and afford their intergenerational lives, many boomers will need to hold meaningful employment well into the golden years of retirement.
Does this mean boomers will be slugging away at the daily grind with no relief or assistance in sight? Will they be relegated to a life categorized by ill health and will society view their garnered experiences as having minimal value?
Aging does not always have to equate to declining health as previous generations thought. Boomers, more than previous generations, have tools and resources available to them to manage their health care needs, assisting them in living longer and healthier lives.
Gerontology is the study of healthy aging, as opposed to geriatrics, which is the study of illnesses and medical care associated with senior citizens. It is an area expected to expand with the demands of tomorrow's large senior population. Even if you think this will not affect you, consider the economic impact on society of knowing how to adjust business output to accommodate seniors' needs in areas of financial planning, graphic design and travel planning, for example.
Graduate degrees in gerontology provide the interdisciplinary education needed by those faced with making both professional and personal decisions regarding aging. Webster offers a non-clinically focused degree that covers broad topic areas as economic issues for older adults, the psychology of aging, and the physiology of aging, within a business and management framework.
I look at this situation from a unique perspective, that of being a "40 something" person myself, as well as a director of a local university. Baby boomer or not, we all have concerns about aging. How can society help those of us facing such concerns best prepare to meet them head-on? How will our issues be addressed, whether it is trying to assist a parent living halfway across the country or right here in town?
Concerns may be purely personal— how to lead a healthy and productive life to make the transition to the golden years smoother, or how to begin a business, catering to the unique needs of elders.
Our nation's largest population group will cause a significant demographic shift, making our senior population the largest this country has ever seen. Society's future demand for those educated in gerontological issues will undoubtedly be greater than we can even begin to imagine.
From the Executive's Desk
NAME: Ellen Driber-Hassall
(Webster is a private, nonprofit, nondenominational, co-educational university founded in 1915 by the Sisters of Loretto in
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