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Posts Tagged ‘Baby Boomers’

Don’t Grow Old Sick, Experts Warn Baby Boomers

June 17th, 2015 at 11:57 am by timigustafson

As more and more members of the Baby Boomer generation – those born between 1946 and 1964, about 75 million in all – enter retirement age and move from commercial healthcare plans to Medicare, the national insurance program for Americans over the age of 65, the question becomes more urgent how the ever-rising medical costs will be absorbed by society.

Roughly three million people will be added annually to the program over the next two decades or so, and it will affect and likely change every part of healthcare as we know it, according to experts.

Cause for concern does not come from these changing demographics per se but rather the fact that Baby Boomers have turned out to be less healthy and less prepared to shoulder (at least part of) their medical expenses by themselves than previously hoped.

Although the average life expectancy has dramatically increased over the last half century, Boomers are not necessarily better off in terms of their health status than those before them. Many have to cope with serious health issues for decades, and the existing medical system is not prepared for such drawn out crises.

Two-thirds of today’s Medicare beneficiaries suffer from multiple chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, kidney disease, and pulmonary problems, according to surveys. The sickest among them, about four million, or 15 percent, account for almost half of the current annual costs of about $324 billion.
Medicare data show that healthcare spending on one person with just one chronic disease amounts to nearly three times that of someone who has no long-terms ailment.

The good news is that much of these expenses could be reduced with diet and lifestyle improvements. Unfortunately, too many Boomers tend to overindulge, and adhere to a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, says Dr. Dana E. King, a family physician and researcher at West Virginia University who has studied chronic conditions among Baby Boomers for many years. Nearly 40 percent are obese, and more than half don’t get any regular exercise at all, he laments.

Also, he says, patients often rely exclusively on medications as their remedy, when in fact the drugs they are taking should be used in conjunction with lifestyle changes.

In one of his studies, involving 15,000 Baby Boomers, Dr. King found that participants who implemented health-promoting diet and lifestyle changes over a period of just four years reduced their risk of dying from a heart attack by an impressive 40 percent.

With better information and greater awareness of the importance of such changes, we could still stave off the otherwise impending crush on the medical system that will surely occur if the chronic diseases these people are now plagued with are not brought under control, he says.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Independent Living Considered a Top Priority Among Seniors

May 22nd, 2015 at 2:32 pm by timigustafson

Every day, roughly 10,000 members of the Baby Boomer generation – those born between 1946 and 1964 – reach the official retirement age of 65. Many will continue to enjoy a high level of physical and mental health and be better off in multiple aspects than preceding generations. But a growing number will suffer from steep decline and be plagued by debilitating illnesses, some of which could have been prevented in time.

One of the most dramatic consequences of age-related deterioration is loss of independence, and it is more feared by seniors than almost any other outcome. For many, even an untimely death seems preferable to becoming beholden to others, according to surveys.

Not only do most older adults not want to become a burden to their loved ones, nearly all – 90 percent of respondents to polls – plan to live out their days in their own homes instead of entering a retirement facility.

“Aging in place,” as it is now widely called, is particularly popular among seniors who cherish the lifestyle they have become accustomed to and wish to maintain for as long as possible. Besides staying indefinitely within one’s four walls, it also includes being able to move around safely in neighborhoods and communities as well as having access to vital resources such as food outlets, public transportation, day-to-day services, places of entertainment, etc.

The concept has also given birth to a fast-growing industry that caters to these exact needs and desires. According to a new report by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, an advocacy group with focus on community building, eliminating obstacles and breaking down barriers that tend to isolate older citizens are important first steps for an aging population’s ongoing participating in communal life. Efforts to make urban and suburban surroundings more senior-friendly – for example by facilitating greater walkability – can benefit members of all ages and should therefore be universally embraced, the report suggests.

On the other hand, as critics have pointed out, staying put for as long as possible may not always be the best option. The prospect of ending up in an assisted-living establishment, separated from loved ones and surrounded by strangers, is so repulsive to some people that they would rather rot away in their own place before accepting much-needed help, says Dr. Steven M. Golant, a professor of gerontology at the University of Florida.

Despite their advanced age, older people tend to overestimate their strength and ability to cope with everyday challenges on their own. Some of it may have to do with the messages we receive in the media about aging and how much better we all fare compared to our forbearers. It makes some folks feel close to invincible when that is definitely not the case.

The whole “aging-in-place” model is probably being oversold, Dr. Golant argues. It may be a profitable idea for home healthcare providers, builders specializing in home modifications for senior residents, financial institutions offering reverse mortgages, etc. But it is not a one-fits all solution for an aging generation.

“There are many downsides to the aging-in-place experience,” he adds. “Obviously there’s a good side. […] But older people are a really diverse lot. Their ability to count on family members is very variable. Their ability to cope with their declines and their losses in health and people is very variable. So to suggest indiscriminately that aging in place is good for everyone is an irresponsible position to take.”

On the upside, one might add, it is also welcome news that living independently at any age has become easier in many ways, including through technological innovations and improved services. As everyone else, today’s seniors have countless opportunities to stay connected and get assistance if needed. Food can be ordered online, as can transportation and most other services. All this can secure a large degree of independence. What it cannot do is to overcome loneliness and isolation, which unfortunately are also part of aging for so many…

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Despite of Optimistic Outlook, Baby Boomers Feel Their Vulnerability

April 30th, 2014 at 12:08 pm by timigustafson

They saw themselves as trail blazers and pioneers. They broke rules and redefined values. They took much for granted and expected more. They vowed to be forever young. But now, the baby boomers generation – those born between 1947 and 1964 – just hope to retire safely, hold on to their lifestyle, and stay as healthy and fit as possible.

That may not be easy. Boomers have plenty of reasons to worry about their diminishing future prospects. Although they never thought of themselves as anything but winners, millions begin to discover how vulnerable they truly are.

According to a survey by Associated Press-Lifegoesstrong.com in 2011, the latest of its kind, slightly less than half of all boomers consider themselves as reasonably happy. Most think they are healthy or fairly healthy, and nearly half feel that their physical health has not worsened over the past five years. In terms of health concerns, cancer ranks highest, followed by age-related dementia and memory loss, and heart disease.

Overweight and obesity are among the most common causes of health problems affecting boomers. Two-thirds have made at least one dietary adjustment to lose weight, and more than half to reduce cholesterol levels. Overall, this generation seems better informed about the ins and outs of nutritional health than its predecessors.

Still, as other studies have shown, boomers don’t age as well as their parents and grandparents did. Despite of their optimistic outlook, the truth is that only a small minority (about 13 percent) is in really excellent shape.

Baby boomers may view the effects of aging as something that happens to someone else, but in reality they may end up creakier and sicker than their parents did, according to one study report.

“The message here is that we may not be the healthiest generation,” said Dr. Dana E. King, a professor of medicine at West Virginia University School of Medicine and lead author of the report. “And I think this may be a wake-up call to the baby boomers to change their lifestyles for the better and try to delay the kind of diseases and disabilities that seem to be coming at a higher rate.”

However, despite of being better educated and having easier access to information about health matters, most boomers believe their physical well-being – especially as they age – is pretty much out of their control, according to a study by Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement, a financial consulting group. There is something uncharacteristically fatalistic about this generation when it comes to health issues, the study found. Most seem to think (falsely) what will happen to them is largely predetermined by their genetic make-up and/or to what extent they can afford advanced medical care.

Not everyone doubts the boomers’ ability to meet their health needs, though.

“In true baby boomer style, they will probably do these things in a new way,” predicts Tom Valeo who writes for WebMD. Since they are bound to live longer than past generations, they will have to figure out how to make this extended longevity work for them. The question is, will those years be vigorous and healthy, or will baby boomers sink into the pain and disability of chronic disease? A lot hangs on the answer, he says.

Fortunately, there is indeed much that can be done to avert, or at least reduce, the impact of the natural aging process, provided boomers – as well as the younger generations that follow them – observe health-promoting diet and lifestyle adjustments and take as many disease-prevention measures as they can. For this it is never too soon and never too late.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Baby Boomers Could Be the Healthiest Generation Ever, If Only…

September 15th, 2013 at 1:30 pm by timigustafson

Older Americans have a much better chance to enjoy many more years of good health and vitality than any generation before them due to better medical treatment and easier access to healthcare, according to a recent study, based on data collected by government health agencies over the last three decades. On average, seniors living today in the United States can expect about two more years of healthy living than their parents.

Health problems that were debilitating just a short while ago, like vision problems or cardiovascular disease, can now be treated more successfully, said Dr. David Cutler, an economics professor at Harvard University and one of the authors of the study report.

“There are a number of conditions, such as heart disease, that used to be very, very impairing. It used to be that after a severe heart attack, people would essentially be bedridden, or they would wind up in nursing homes. We’re not seeing that anymore,” he added.

While that is good news for retiring baby boomers, these findings are not universally applicable. A higher percentage of the boomer generation (about 36 percent) is obese compared to any other group in the U.S. The two generations directly above and below are about 25 percent. That puts boomers at an exceptionally high risk of suffering from diet and lifestyle-related illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer, all of which may be treatable but still have diminishing effects on people’s quality of life.

In other words, although boomers can greatly benefit from the enormous medical and pharmaceutical advances that have been made over the last decades, their well-being still largely depends on how well they take care of themselves.

Unfortunately, current trends are not pointing in the right direction. Studies show that younger boomers, those born in the 1960s, have a higher prevalence of obesity than those born one or two decades earlier. The overall increase in obesity rates throughout the boomer generation is steeper than any other before them.

Considering the means and opportunities older Americans have today to meet their health needs, it is surprising that so many ended up less healthy than previously thought, said Dr. Dana King of the West Virginia University Department of Family Medicine and author of a study on the health prospects of the aging population.

The reasons for these developments are multiple and they are well documented. Increased food consumption, poor diet choices and sedentary lifestyles are at the forefront, as they are in most other parts of the population suffering from weight problems and related ills. Likewise, the solutions would be similar.

It would indeed be surprising if this generation that has always been known for its high expectations couldn’t meet the challenges of healthy aging. There is certainly no shortage of advice for how to go about it, this blog included.

Yes, boomers are lucky to be able to benefit from many opportunities that were not available before; but they can also learn from some old-fashioned wisdom that helped our forbearers to get through life – sometimes better than we know how to today.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 through 1964 – will live longer than any other generation before them, but they will not necessarily be healthier. In fact, many are already burdened with more chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes than their parents and grandparents were. Most of these health problems are lifestyle-related and could be prevented through changes in diet, exercise and weight management, but for some reason these messages seem hard to get across.

A recent study conducted by the West Virginia University School of Medicine found that despite of better education and greater awareness in health matters as well as advancements in medicine, baby boomers will likely face more sickness in their twilight years than generations before them.

The study found that the number of boomers who have high cholesterol has more than doubled compared to the previous generation. Nearly 40 percent are obese, an increase of over 10 percent in just 12 years. Less than half exercise regularly, and a rapidly growing number can’t walk without using a cane or a walker. Boomers are also reported to suffer more from mental illness and alcohol and drug addiction than their parents did. In other words, baby boomers appear to be heading for retirement in worse shape than those born before World War II.

According to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private nonprofit research organization specializing in economic studies, some of the lifestyle choices of this generation are resulting in “hazardous trends” in terms of health and aging. Especially the drastic increase in weight problems and obesity over the last few decades raise serious concerns about the future health and physical functioning of aging baby boomers, the report concludes.

At the same time, a large percentage is woefully unprepared for retirement in terms of finances and coverage of their health care needs. Nearly 90 percent are not sure they will have enough money to live out their years in comfort and financial security. 44 percent have little or no faith that they can sustain themselves without outside help, and 25 percent don’t think they will ever be able to retire, according to a survey by the Associated Press.

That is why health concerns are a priority for baby boomers not just per se but also for financial reasons. When Merrill Lynch, a wealth management company, asked in a recent survey thousands of Americans age 45 and older about their perspectives on retirement, the prospect of serious health problems topped the list of worries, followed by becoming a burden on loved ones and running out of money.

Health disruption is especially worrisome because it’s unpredictable, can be very expensive and can force people to retire earlier than they had planned or were ready to because of disabilities, says Dr. Ken Dychtwald, a gerontologist and bestselling book author who took part in conducting the survey.

The good news is that baby boomer retirees have more and better tools at their disposal to improve their health and age better than any of their predecessors. The keyword is prevention. Just as important as putting money aside for a rainy day is to take care of one’s health by eating right, exercising, staying within a healthy weight range and keeping the mind sharp. For this, it is never too soon or too late to start.

Undoubtedly, baby boomers are about to face many unprecedented challenges as they approach retirement in great numbers. But they are also well equipped to handle them with the same adventurous and pioneering spirit that got them through life so far.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Living Long, Living Well

August 29th, 2012 at 5:47 pm by timigustafson

Americans may be less optimistic about the future in general than they once were, but a solid majority still hopes to enjoy a long life. In fact, longevity is considered by most as part of a good life, on par with health, prosperity and loving relationships.

60 percent expect to live at least until they’re 80. 40 percent think 120 to 150 years could be feasible within their own lifetime due to further advancements in medical and biological technology. And one percent believes that death could eventually be eliminated altogether, according to a survey conducted by David Ewing Duncan, a science writer and author of “When I’m 164: The New Science of Radical Life Extension and What Happens If It Succeeds.”

Considering that two thirds of the population are currently dealing with weight problems and a host of lifestyle-related diseases, this may be wishful thinking for many. But the fact is that the average life expectancy has indeed dramatically increased over the last century due to improved hygiene, diet and medical care. In 1900, people could expect to live just under 50 years. In the year 2000, it was nearly 77. The average lifespan was lengthened between 1.5 and 2.7 years per decade, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

What’s even more stunning is that our chances of living longer seem to go up all the time. How so? “Because the more time you spend in the world, the more time the world gives you,” says Ted C. Fishman, author of “Shock of Gray” (Scribner, 2010). “For every hour we live,” he claims, “the average human lifespan increases between eleven and fifteen minutes. Every day sees the average lifespan grow another five hours.”

Of course, that doesn’t apply for everyone across the globe, Fishman admits. “Your odds are better if you have avoided the obesity epidemic and live in a place that enjoys good health care, education, and freedom from war and terrible poverty.” It also helps if you can manage to stay mentally fit and don’t suffer from memory loss and cognitive decline. A loving family, a circle of friends and other supportive social surroundings add to your chances.

Unfortunately, many of these important factors for longevity cannot be taken for granted. Baby boomers, now entering retirement, are rightly worried about their prospects when it comes to their financial security, health needs and social life.

“It does not bode well for the baby boom generation at all,” warns Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor for public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies longevity, in an interview with Reuters. More recent studies show that life expectancy gains in the U.S. have actually flattened out since the 1960s. Despite of dramatically increasing expenditures for health care, many Americans live with chronic diseases that are left insufficiently treated, especially among the uninsured and those with limited coverage. One study concluded that poorer citizens have on average a shorter lifespan of up to five years than the more affluent.

Obviously, money can’t buy everything and life remains an uncertain enterprise no matter how rich you are. For the rest of us, there are plenty of opportunities to take care of our health and well-being by eating right, exercising, etc. (you know the drill) – and for this, it’s never too early to get started.

Researchers found that physical fitness achieved during middle-age can lower the risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure in later years and may be associated with compression of morbidity at old age. Compression of morbidity is what many health experts consider the optimal outcome of aging. The idea is “to delay the onset of age-related disease and inevitable decline without worrying about extending life,” writes Dr. Andrew Weil, author of numerous best-selling health books, including “Healthy Aging” (Knopf, 2005). Not longevity itself should be our first concern, but the quality of life we have as long as we are around, he says.

This reminds me of the late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. who died last year at the age of 56, when he spoke of the inevitability of death at his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address.

“No one wants to die,” he said. “Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. […] Your time is limited,” he ended, “so don’t waste it…”

Even the longest life can be a waste if it’s not brought to its full potential. Even the shortest life is rich and fulfilled if it’s lived well.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “The High Cost of Living Longer.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Hollywood has decided to invest once more in a movie specifically aimed at baby boomers. After the considerable successes of “Something’s Gotta Give” (2003), “The Bucket List” (2007), and this year’s long-running box office hit, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Hope Springs,” now in theaters, addresses another topic that is very much of concern for this aging generation: How does one maintain a decades-old marriage, including a decent sex life, when mutual attraction can no longer be taken for granted?

For those who haven’t seen the movie (yet), here’s a brief synopsis: Like many empty-nesters, Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have settled into a comfortable but mind-numbing, soul-destroying routine. He goes to work every morning as an accountant, albeit with retirement plans not far off. She takes care of the house and earns a little extra money from a part-time job in a clothing store. While he’s resigned to the status quo, she wants more, in fact, she wants a different life that includes a loving relationship and – if it’s not too much to ask – a little action in the bedroom. Seeking the help of a marriage counselor seems the only way to salvage whatever is left of their former bliss.

Obviously, the film’s message stands in stark contrast to the “Fifty Shades” book series by E. L. James, often dubbed as ‘mommy porn,’ where women of all ages can find inspiration for their erotic endeavors in and outside of marriage. By comparison, “Hope Springs” is almost a turnoff, considering the long-term prospects.

In any case, talking (let alone making a film) about intimacy between older people has never been easy in our youth-oriented culture. This may be changing now in response to demographic shifts. But timeliness alone will not guarantee that a truly meaningful conversation can take place.

The way we deal with the subject of sex at the later stages in life is almost exclusively focused on issues like erectile dysfunction and other unfortunate effects of the natural aging process. Performance-enhancing drugs like Viagra and Cialis may sell better than almost any other pharmaceutical product on the planet, but in terms of treatment they offer a purely mechanical solution: As long as the plumbing keeps working, everything’s supposed to be fine. What they can’t do is to help preserve a satisfying relationship with a partner who has seemingly been around forever and offers little hope for many more surprises. Even if the desired effect kicks in every time, the ability to perform in bed is not the same as making love.

Like many couples whose marriage has come to a crossroad, Kay and Arnold take stock of all their unmet needs and expectations. Being sexually unfulfilled, although initially high on the list of their mutual misgivings, turns out only to be a symptom of a far deeper disconnect. Soon they have to realize that the deterioration of their relationship is not caused by a poor sex life, but rather the other way around. There is no love to express because there is no love to be had. Instead, an empty space is widening between them – symbolized by separate schedules, separate interests, separate bedrooms – and by the time they can no longer ignore it, they are unable to bridge it.

It is a strength of the movie to show how a ‘Me First’ attitude, common among but not limited to baby boomers, leaves us terribly unequipped to deal with these kinds of problems. Bookstores and websites overflow with professional guidance and self-help materials, but divorce rates remain high and more people are now single than married. The filmmakers were too smart to try giving any definite answers themselves. One thing, however, becomes clear: Love is still a matter of giving over taking, creation over expectation, dialogue over demand. In a way, we are warned not to expect too much and yet make the most of what we have. Not bad advice from a simple boomer flick.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “The Secret of Healthy Aging.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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How Golden Will Your “Golden Years” Be?

August 4th, 2012 at 4:28 pm by timigustafson

As they enter retirement age, baby boomers are once again at the center of the attention of marketers and industry. I speak from experience. Hardly a day passes by on which I don’t receive a letter, brochure or magazine in the mail, inviting me to go on a trip to far-flung places, continue my adult education, or join a community of like-minded, active seniors. Aging has never been so much fun and so full of promise, it seems.

Take, for example, the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which turned out to be one of the longest-running box office hits this year. In it, a group of retirees from England goes off to India (of all places) to start a new life that appears to be easier and more enjoyable than everything they’ve left behind. There is affordable health care, cheap housing, and, surprisingly enough, even job opportunities open up for those who have the courage to seek them. Some things may be a little chaotic, but that’s all part of the fun when you no longer need to stress over small stuff.

Unlike for its forbearers, retirement for this generation – so we are told – is a new beginning rather than a move closer to the end. The defining word now is “adventure,” which, of course, comes from the Latin term for “arrival.” Instead of fading away, this is the time to (finally) come into one’s own.

This unprecedented optimism about the prospects of old age is also big business. Just look at the self-help industry that thrives on people’s willingness to change their lives and start over again and again. Instead of the twilight zone, the later stages in life are now called the “Power Years” (to quote one title among countless best-selling books on the subject), a time to break with traditional roles and an opportunity for reinvention and creativity.

“Due to longer life spans, economic uncertainty, and the mass rejection of yesterday’s model of old age, yesterday’s model of retirement is being transformed,” wrote the two lifestyle gurus and bestselling authors of “Power Years” (Wiley, 2005), Ken Dychtwald and Daniel J. Kadlec. “Instead of viewing the years ahead as a time of decline, retreat, and withdrawal, we are coming to see this as a terrific new opportunity to reevaluate our lives, consider new options, and chart new courses. The next chapter in our life’s journey can be one of personal reinvention, financial liberation, career innovation, new relationships, and social and spiritual fulfillment.”

The authors suggest that the new retirees should consider themselves as “ageless explorers” who travel the world, start businesses and live life to the fullest at every moment they have left.

Americans are especially receptive for messages like these. The idea that our best days are always ahead of us is an important part of our fabric, both individually and as a nation.

But is all this actually achievable or just wishful thinking?

A much different, one might say, pessimistic, take on aging comes from Susan Jacoby, author of “Never Say Die – The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age” (Vintage Books, 2011). Jacoby agrees that baby boomers have many advantages that were unheard of in the past.

“Many old people today – if they are in sound financial shape, if they are in reasonably good health, and if they possess functioning brains – can explore an array of possibilities that did not exist even a generation ago.” However, she continues, “at some point, nearly every baby boomer will have to cope with the shattering of vanity and self-delusion about the capacity to remain, as the song goes, forever young.”

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with trying one’s utmost to stay physically fit, mentally sharp, socially engaged and curious about the world. But we must also remain realistic about our natural limitations. More importantly, we must be aware that our aging process starts at birth. While this may sound a bit dramatic, it is undoubtedly true that taking care of our well-being is equally important at every stage in life. The healthier we eat and the more we exercise, the better in shape we are, the better we can deal with life’s challenges, the more intact we come out at the other end. Life is what you make it, as the saying goes. So, let’s not wait until it’s almost too late, let’s make life as good as it can be right now.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Many Unmet Health Care Needs of Aging Baby Boomers

July 12th, 2012 at 12:23 pm by timigustafson

Baby boomers will likely face an array of health conditions as they grow older but will find in many cases only insufficient treatment options. According to a report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), health care providers are currently not prepared for the coming challenges of what has been called a “silver tsunami” because of the sheer size of this aging generation. These challenges include both physical and mental health care needs, the latter of which have so far been mostly ignored or neglected.

As many as eight million Americans age 65 and older suffer from mental health problems, including depression, memory loss and diminished cognitive functions. Substance abuse was also mentioned as a growing contributing factor to age-related mental decline. These numbers will only go up as the elderly population will grow from just over 40 million in 2010 to well over 70 million by 2030.

At a time when there is already great concern over the affordability of health care in general, finding funds for the treatment of mental illness and substance abuse will be even more difficult. Nevertheless, the IOM calls for an overhaul of Medicare and Medicaid payment rules in favor of covering care, counseling and other services for older patients with mental health problems. At this point, both programs rather deter treatment of such conditions, based on their existing coverage and reimbursement policies.

A lack of national attention to these issues combined with an ill-equipped health care work force that doesn’t understand the special needs of older adults only worsens the situation, according to Dr. Dan G. Blazer, a professor for psychiatry and behavioral science at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, who chaired the IOM panel that wrote the report. He calls the findings a “wake-up call that we need to prepare now or our older population and their extended families will suffer the consequences.”

Geriatric health care is in many ways different from general health care and requires specialized training. Older people undergo metabolic changes, making it more difficult for them to tolerate certain medications and thereby increasing the risk of overdosing. Also, age-related cognitive impairments can affect the ability to comply with medication instructions. Other existing physical health problems can mask or distract from mental health needs and leave those undiagnosed and untreated. Grief and depression caused by loss of loves ones, social isolation or alcohol and drug abuse can accelerate the mental decline.

All health care workers, including primary care physicians, nurses and social workers, who are in frequent contact with older patients must be able to recognize the symptoms of mental health problems and provide at least some basic form of treatment, says the report. Regrettably, there are relatively few opportunities for medical professionals to get more training in geriatric mental health care. There are also not enough financial incentives that would encourage them to enter this field.

The report concludes with a warning to lawmakers about the significant shortcomings of the nation’s health care force facing a rapidly aging population. The IOM panel urges Congress to provide additional funding of resources to evaluate, coordinate and facilitate the efforts of health care workers taking on these enormous challenges.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Gourmet Dining on a Slowing Metabolism

January 18th, 2012 at 2:43 pm by timigustafson

Today’s retirees have many more options how to spend their golden years than any generation before them. Baby boomers, especially those who are well off, can satisfy their curiosity and adventurous spirit by exploring new business endeavors, continuing their education or traveling around the world. Some discover new passions and acquire new skills they never had time for while working.

One of those late pursuits that is rapidly gaining in popularity is gourmet dining, both at home and at restaurants. Interest in advanced cooking classes has never been greater, not to mention the high ratings for food shows and competitions between celebrity chefs on TV. The auditoria of culinary institutes around the world are filled with students in their sixties, seventies and beyond, eager to familiarize themselves with the latest trends and techniques in the world of haute cuisine.

Fine wining and dining has always been a prerogative of those who like (and can afford) to indulge in the better things life has to offer, but today it’s a whole different ballgame. In an article for the New York Times (12/28/2011), Charles Isherwood, a food writer, describes his parents (both retired) as “foodies” for whom eating well has become their lives’ mission. “My parents practically live to eat,” he writes. “At home [they] eat out three or so times a week. But when they come to New York, we sample the city’s restaurants in five-day, two-big-meals-a-day binges that have become something of a legend.”

Of course, besides being tremendously pleasurable, fine dining also conveys an aura of culture and sophistication (not to mention exclusiveness due to oftentimes ridiculous pricing). However, many food lovers also seem to think that eating at the best restaurants or cooking with the most expensive ingredients automatically means their diet is healthy. But this is not necessarily true.

Gourmet chefs typically focus on taste and presentation. Calorie counts and fat contents are not their primary concern. The individual portions may look small compared to lower-end eateries with their “all-you-can-eat” value offers, but if you order three, four or more courses, you end up with a similarly large amount of food in your stomach.

You may say, well, it’s only on rare occasions that you go all out like that. But what about eating out three times a day when you travel? What about a cruise where limitless access to great food is one of the perks?

The unfortunate truth is that as you get older and have more time and funds to indulge a little more than you used to, your metabolism begins to slow down. In fact, it slows down about 5% to 10% every decade or so, beginning in your mid-twenties. This means that the typical American loses between 20% and 40% of metabolic power over the course of his or her lifespan, according to Dr. John Berardi, best-selling author of “The Metabolism Advantage.”

The reasons are easy to understand: Your metabolism converts calories into energy. When your calorie intake is higher than your energy expenditure, weight gain occurs. As you grow older, it becomes harder to maintain a healthy calorie-energy balance because your lifestyle probably becomes more sedentary and your physical activities get less strenuous. Another result is age-related muscle loss. Diminishing muscle mass means that fewer calories are being burned off and your metabolism slows down. While this is an inevitable, natural process, there are things you can do to prevent it from happening too fast.

The best way to counteract muscle loss is weight training. Lifting weights does not only add muscle, it also burns off calories even while you rest afterwards. Doing aerobics, of course, also helps with calorie burn. People who are said to have a faster metabolism are probably just more physically active all day.

Not surprisingly, adherence to healthy eating habits also matters more with age. Your calorie requirements may go down, but your need for high-quality nutrients remains the same throughout your life. Simple but nutrient-dense foods are the best choices for a healthy, age-appropriate diet – such as fresh fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants, whole grains, fish, lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

So, before you try out your next culinary sensation downtown or at home, keep in mind that your health is too important to throw all caution to the wind, just because you can.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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