As baby boomers hit the twilight of their lives, they are displaying higher levels of physical, mental, and emotional fitness than previous generations. According to experts, this longevity presents unique needs that can be broadly divided into five categories.
As baby boomers age, their more active lifestyles demand a unique approach to health care and meeting their physical needs.
Boomers continue to jog and play team sports, which are great for body and spirit, but it means that joint care is one of the most prevalent health needs of this generation. According to a report by the American Hospital Association, nearly one out of every two baby boomers will suffer from arthritis. In addition to traditional medical care, other options baby boomers may seek for staying fit and well include:
- Elastic bandages or braces for support
- Switching to lower impact activities like yoga, tai chi, swimming or cycling
- Acupuncture, and acupressure to help relieve joint pain
- Herbal remedies and supplements such as chondroitin to help with joint pain
According to the National Institute of Health, energy requirements decrease as metabolism slows down with aging, while at the same time, nutrient requirements actually increase. Other nutrition factors related to aging include:
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in taste and smell
- Decline in oral health
- Reduced ability to swallow
- Mobility constraints
To address changing nutritional needs, the National Institute of Health says that aging boomers should:
- Increase whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, lean protein sources, and low-fat dairy.
- Decrease refined grains and highly-processed foods.
- Become better educated about the nutritional needs of aging by seeing a nutritionist who is specially trained to work with seniors
Housing and transportation needs change as you age. Boomers, however, have unique needs in both housing and transportation.
Once boomers have raised their families, housing needs change. Add to that the physical challenges of age and many boomers seek out new living arrangements. For many, this means downsizing from a large house to a smaller home, condominium, or apartment.
According to a report by the Urban Land Institute, independent senior living communities are becoming an increasingly popular option with boomers. Some communities even provide for progression from independent living to assisted living to full nursing care, as needed.
For a generation that has been driving since their early teens, boomers celebrate independence above all else. Traditional schedule-based public transportation is a tough sell to those accustomed to grabbing the keys and going at a moment's notice.
City planners know this and mass transportation is changing. Smaller vehicles on more flexible schedules - such as taxis or minivans - are one solution. Self-contained communities with shuttle service are another.
Other forms of personal transportation available include:
- Golf Carts
A study by the Brookings Institution titled The Mobility Needs of Older Americans presents a number of special approaches the Federal Government and communities should take to meet the mobility and access needs of the elderly.
Mental and Emotional Needs
A more active lifestyle over more years can mean more stress. Managing stress and emotional turmoil can be more problematic for aging baby boomers than for previous generations.
Mental Health/Substance Abuse
According to a report by the Institute of Medicine, as many as one in five seniors have a mental health or substance abuse problem. A scarcity of doctors, nurses, and health workers in the geriatric mental health/substance abuse fields only exacerbates this problem.
- Physical ailments often mask mental health issues.
- The effects of aging on the metabolism of alcohol and drugs are not well known.
- It is often difficult to distinguish between grief and clinical depression.
The solutions are obvious:
- Seek out primary care physicians with training in geriatric mental health/substance abuse problems.
- Be receptive to the need for more specialized geriatric mental health/substance abuse care, as needed.
- Advocate for better mental health/substance abuse services through Medicare and Medicaid.
Without exercise, the brain, like the body, gets "flabby."
Some ways in which aging boomers can continue to grow intellectually:
- Sign up for classes at community-based organizations and local colleges that offer educational opportunities for older citizens.
- Read books and newspapers, and watch television.
- Do crossword puzzles and other word and number games.
- Engage in regular stimulating conversations with others.
Baby boomers, as they approach their golden years, begin to think more and more about spiritual matters.
In seeking spiritual health, aging boomers may seek traditional forms of worship in a local church, synagogue, or temple. Alternatively, they may gravitate to something less traditional, such as:
- Viewing and participating (financially) in a television ministry.
- Meeting in homes to discuss spiritual matters with family and friends.
- Engaging in self-directed spirituality or formal religious study.
Sex is a physical need, as well as an emotional one. According to expert Dr. Edmond Duthie, there are both myths and some of the most commonly held myths about aging and sexuality, as well as solutions. Some of the myths include:
- As people age, they lose their desire and ability to enjoy sex.
- Older women, more so than older men, become asexual as they age.
- Aging individuals naturally develop sexual dysfunctions and should accept it as the norm.
The reality about aging and sexuality is:
- Men and women have the ability to enjoy sex at any age.
- Both sexes experience challenges as they age.
- Certain medical conditions such as, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and cancer, may compromise sexual adjustment in older adults.
Fortunately, all problems have solutions:
- Medical science offers useful treatments for age-related sexual dysfunction.
- Medical professionals with positive attitudes about sexuality are readily available.
- Open communication between partners is necessary.
- Sexual health depends on physical health.
Boomers, as they age, often find themselves with fewer financial resources.
Aging boomers work longer. Many communities, however, offer no resources to help older adults remain in the workforce. One solution, aside from skimming the classifieds, is to conduct an online search on jobs for boomers.
Taxes for boomers are often complicated - due to income from a combination of pension, IRA, investment and salary. Given the complexity of the IRS tax code, boomers who do their own taxes should make use of reliable tax preparation software. For those who use a tax preparation service, it is important to make sure it's one with a solid reputation.
Aging boomers often find they have to use their nest egg to support adult children, parents, or even grandchildren.
While managing limited financial resources has several components to it, ultimately the process involves three simple steps:
- Taking stock of all resources
- Fashioning a budget
- Sticking to it
Life, for previous generations, revolved primarily around family. Life, for boomers, also revolves around community and the world at large. Boomers are used to serving on non-profit boards and taking an active role in their communities.
Transition needs to allow for continued community involvement - albeit at a lower level. Numerous volunteer programs exist that provide opportunities for citizens 55 and older to make a real difference in the lives of others.
Into the Sunset
In general, boomers are less interested in riding into the sunset in their golden years than they are in making a continuing positive contribution to their families, their communities, and the world. The greatest need of aging baby boomers then, is the need to be needed.