Editor’s Note: Below is Steve Canipe’s fourth column in his series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.
- See second column – Are We Really Old? – here.
- See third column – Cars and More Cars – here.
- See fourth column – Getting Educated – here.
- See fifth column – Home Alone? – here.
- See sixth column – Death – here.
- See seventh column – They’re Playing Our Song – here.
- See eighth column – Driving: Knowing When To Quit – here.
- See ninth column – Hobbies: What’s Your Favorite – here.
‘The Last of Life, for which the First was Made’
By Steve Canipe
Few diseases have the cache as does the big “C” <cancer>; however there is one that may strike nearly as much fear in those of us who are boomers and those who love us – Alzheimer ’s disease.
The basic definition of Alzheimer’s provided by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America is “Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes.” So what does that really mean? Many of us have probably had a loved one or a friend who has experienced the onset of Alzheimer’s or a similar dementia.
The first symptoms are related to forgetting recent events. This forgetfulness gets progressively worse and ultimately all memories seem to disappear. The progression of the disease can be rapid or very slow. When memories start to go there is, on the part of the individual, confusion and sometimes anger. It is hard to deal with a loved one who no longer remembers who you are.
Relationships between and among family members can go awry. In one case I am aware of, a daughter was talking with her mother who was in the developing stages of Alzheimer’s. The mother mentioned something about her husband of many years and the daughter said something about her dad. The mother in all earnestness looked at the daughter and asked “And who was your daddy?” This would be a little hurtful even when knowing that it was not a deliberate act that caused the mother to forget the parental relationship.
Some people as they develop the disease become belligerent or angry or confrontational. Others seem to become mellower. This has led some to speculate that the latent tendencies that might have been covered by the veneer of civilized behavior are breaking down.
While cancer and Alzheimer’s are two common diseases of aging, there are other common ones. Cancer is listed at the second leading cause of deaths among those 65 or older. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death. Number one in this list is cardiovascular disease. This death rate is the same for both men and women. Influenza and the flu are in the top 10 causes of death as well. Other health problems are type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, eye-problems, and arthritis and other joint problems.
One other issue, which will be explored in a later Boomer Bytes column, is the stress of being a sandwich generation. This occurs when caring for elderly parents and still having boomerang children living at home creates stressful situations.
The sheer numbers of boomers will stress a health care system that does not do a particularly good job of handling elderly patients with dignity. Will we, as boomers, stand for inadequate treatment and warehousing? Will we become a set of “gray panthers” who take to the street and to the ballot box to enforce our rules?
World populations will also be affected by large numbers of older people. The United Nations estimates that by 2050 there will be more people on Earth who are 65 and older than there are 5 and younger. The American Hospital Association estimates that by 2030 in the United States 60% of boomers will experience more than one chronic disease.
Implications of these unprecedented numbers of oldsters coupled with their illnesses and the propensity for this group to vote in large numbers may have a large policy impact. Maybe insurance companies, drug companies, and legislators will have to take notice of the 79 million boomers born between 1946 and 1964. We will demand no less.
Some of you may remember the movie and book called Logan’s Run. The novel, written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson was published in 1967 and really considerd the whole idea of ageism. The movie starring Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan, Roscoe Lee Browne, Farrah Fawcett, and Peter Ustinov was released in 1976. There was even a briefly running television series in 1977. The story, set in 2274, is about a man who is tasked to track down oldsters (those at age 30) who refuse to report for entry into something called Carrousel where they are renewed—read that as being killed and body materials recycled. Some people refuse to meekly submit to recycling and run – hence Logan, called a Sandman, who tracks them down. All goes well until Logan reaches the magical age of 30 and himself becomes a runner.
Are we set to become a society where there is age warfare? Some have already suggested that those on social security are using up their children’s and grandchildren’s future. Whether we are simply using our own investments into the system or are a burden on society is a question that needs answering.
Maybe we are like Robert Browning who opined in his poem Rabbi Ben Ezra “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!” Of course when this was said in 1864, when the average American lived to be 48 years of age.
Is the second half of our life, like Browning thinks, the reason we lived the first half of our lives? How we live the rest of our lives is perhaps a result of our previous life or maybe we can be better than what we did in our first half.
Maybe we will develop like the society in Logan’s Run, where we will go quietly into that good night…or maybe more like the idea in Dylan Thomas’ poem Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night. Maybe we will follow Thomas’ advice — “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
With medicines and proper care of our health, we will likely expand the life expectancy of the United States population. Life expectancy figures are a little odd. For each year you live your life expectancy is extended. As an example, at birth the life expectancy of a U.S. person is 77.9 years (with women about 5 years longer than men). If an individual lives to 65, their life expectancy improves to 83.6 years (women still better but not as much so). At age 75, the rate is even longer with the average being 86.7 (women still with about a 2 year edge).
How much do we “cost” society and how much is our wisdom worth? This is a key question that those of us boomers can answer in a positive fashion, if we desire to do so. Next week’s column will be on Volunteering. We can make a difference in the lives of our society and I believe we should do as much as we can.
Let me hear from you on diseases, avoiding them, and our value as oldsters either via email at [email protected] or post your thoughts at the end of the column. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.