The New Year is almost a month along, and already 2020 feels sort of old hat. Most of us have gotten used to saying “2020” and we’ve even stopped writing “2019” on our checks (for those who still write checks, that is). But before we continue racing along on the 2020 toboggan ride, this recent article from Kaiser Health News has inspired us to pause for just a moment and reflect on what the next decade might bring for those of us between age 55 and 75. Writer Judith Graham titled her article, “What the 2020s Have in Store for Baby Boomers,” and the more we read about it the more we realize just what a mixed bag the coming decade will be.
Boomer Predictions Reflect a Mixture of Optimism and “Harsh Reality”
“Within 10 years,” Graham writes, “all of the nation’s 74 million baby boomers will be 65 or older. The most senior among them will be on the cusp of 85.” Even sooner than that, by 2025, the Census Bureau projects that there will be significantly more seniors 65-plus in America (about 65 million) than children 13 and younger (about 58 million). “In the history of the human species, there’s never been a time like [this],” Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, told Kaiser Health News. This age discrepancy with oldsters outnumbering youngsters represents a shift that demographers say is unprecedented.
In preparing her article, Graham interviewed a dozen experts and asked them what trends they foresaw in the decade ahead that will have a powerful effect on the boomer generation. While some of the responses were optimistic and hopeful, Graham labelled others “sobering” and “reflecting a harsh reality.” The bottom line: “Our nation isn’t prepared for this vast demographic shift and its far-reaching consequences.” The Kaiser Health News article spotlights seven broad societal trends that will have a major impact on baby boomers as this huge cohort of men and women ages. Today we’ll cover three, dealing with aging and health.
Here’s what the experts told Graham:
Boomer Prediction Number One: A “Crisis of Care”
“Never have so many people lived so long, entering the furthest reaches of old age and becoming at risk of illness, frailty, disability, cognitive decline and the need for personal assistance,” the article observes. This fact will require society to care for “large numbers of elders living for at least a year or two with serious disabilities,” as one health expert put it – a challenge for which we are definitely not ready.
As a senior AARP leader told Graham, most families will find the cost of long-term care completely unaffordable. Data from the 2019 Genworth Cost of Care Study pegs the median U.S. cost of a room in an assisted living facility at well over $48,000 per year. The median cost for nursing care in a private room topped $100,000 per year, and 30 hours of home care each week for a year costs nearly $36,000. When you consider that the median household income for older adults in 2019 was less than $44,000, and you factor in the meager rates of retirement savings for many seniors, the problem comes into sharp focus.
Professor Karl Pillemer of Cornell University told Kaiser Health News, “Boomers have smaller families and are more likely to enter old age single, so families cannot be expected to pick up the slack. We have only a few years to plan different ways of providing care for frail older people to avoid disastrous consequences.” One glaring example of the crisis is the shortage of home health aides. The need for these caregivers “is soaring, even as low wages and poor working conditions discourage workers from applying for or staying in these jobs,” writes Graham. Demographers predict that nearly 8 million home health aides will be needed well before the decade is out, and many of those jobs may go unfilled.
Boomer Prediction Number Two: Some of Us Will Live Better, Longer
But there’s a possible upside to the health picture, says Kaiser: many seniors will live better, longer. Some medical experts on aging have started using the term “healthspan” (as described in this Kaiser article from a few weeks ago) to refer to “the time during which older adults are healthy and able to function independently,” a period of life that the World Health Organization calls “healthy life expectancy.” In the United States today, our total average life expectancy is just below 79 years, but our healthspan is roughly ten years shorter – 68.5 years. Aging experts say the goal needs to be to increase, not just how long we live, but how long we live well: our healthspan.
Some trends along this line are positive, says the Kaiser article. Rates of healthier diet and more regular exercise among Americans are on the rise. However, says Graham, “Other trends are concerning. Notably, more than one-third of older adults are obese, while 28 percent are physically inactive, putting them at higher risk of physical impairments and chronic medical conditions.” That’s why one of the trends for the coming decade will be a growing focus on preventive care and promotion of good health, not simply on treating disease.
Boomer Prediction Number Three: Scientific Advances Will Redefine “Healthy Aging”
Researchers, says the Kaiser article, are coming to a growing recognition that, as one gerontologist put it, “we can’t just apply one-size-fits-all guidance for healthy aging.” They believe that advancements in genetic research and data analysis in the coming decade will lead to prescriptions that are “more personalized — and effective.” One of the areas where these advances will have the greatest impact is in the ability to predict and treat dementia. Research is also underway that, if successful, might allow us to literally slow down the aging process at the molecular and cellular level. For now this field known as geroscience (and described on this website of the National Institute on Aging) sounds like science fiction, but researchers are confident that human trials of new drugs and other compounds will begin in this decade.
A Timeless Boomer Prediction: You Need a Comprehensive Retirement Plan
Next week we’ll cover the rest of Judith Graham’s predictions for the decade ahead. Meanwhile, no matter what the future holds, some things remain the same. As the old adage puts it, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Don’t let that be your story in retirement! Instead, we encourage you to come and experience a fresh approach to retirement planning by joining Rajiv Nagaich from AgingOptions at an upcoming free LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll discover how finances, family matters, health care, housing plans, and legal protection – the five essentials of retirement planning – can all be woven together into a retirement plan called a LifePlan, a blueprint to allow you to build the retirement of your dreams.
Visit our Live Events page for a calendar of currently scheduled seminars and register for the date and time of your choice. We predict you’ll be very glad you did – and that’s one prediction that’s virtually a sure thing. Age on!
(originally reported at www.khn.org)