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Coming of age: as the Baby Boomer ages, long term care must gear up for its own 'boom'.

John Griffin remembers the day six years ago when he placed his 68-year-old father into a long term care facility. Griffin's aging dad simply could not care for himself anymore, and Griffin didn't have time room or money to take him in.

"I wasn't thrilled with the idea, because I always grew up with this feeling that it would one day be my responsibility to take care of him," Griffin says. "But there just wasn't enough room in my life for him. He needed to be someplace where people could watch him and make sure he didn't hurt himself."

Dad wasn't too happy at first, either. "You don't want to know what he called me," Griffin recalls. "Anyone who thinks senior citizens are too dignified to cuss out their own children hasn't been around my father. He was...upset, to put it mildly."

But six years later, father and son think the decision was the best one John could have made for both of them. "He's adjusted nicely," Griffin says. "He says it's hard for him to imagine not living in such an environment now."

The irony is that Griffin knows he will one day have to consider a similar arrangement for himself. But at age 46, he doesn't think he'll have to worry about it for a while.

"Me? In a nursing home? You've got to be kidding," Griffin says. "It'll be at least a couple decades, if then. Ask me about it when I'm my dad's age."

When that date does come--and it will--Griffin will have lots of company. As a member of the Baby Boomer generation, he's part of the largest group of births in history. Seventy-seven million people were born between 1946 and 1964, a group that pledged to change the world and has: Baby Boomers greatly influence the way we shop, the laws we follow and even how and where we live.

No surprise, then, that as the generation that once vowed to "never trust anyone over 30" now approaches twice that age, they're still rewriting the rules of culture. "The Baby Boom generation is only now contemplating aging, and gerontologists are beginning to recognize the extraordinary impact their numbers will have on an aging society," says Fernando Torres-Gil, author of The New Aging: Politics and Change in America.

Consider the impact this group of graying go-getters will have on long term care. The first of the Baby Boomers won't turn 65 until 2011; shortly thereafter they will be the largest generation of retirees in American history. Experts note that such a group will mean serious problems for an already shorthanded industry; government officials say that the present system won't be able to financially support a major influx of retirees unless major reforms are made.

Lawmakers such as Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, can only agree. During an Aging committee hearing on ways to deal with the Boomer issue, Breaux noted that the group's size and distinct character "will not only create a sense of urgency to current issues, but create a whole new set of aging issues."

Contributing factors

On the surface, Baby Boomers are a well-off group, making more money than their parents and easily acclimating themselves to buying the latest and greatest [see "Baby Boomers vs. the 'Old Guard,'" below]. But they're also saving less for retirement--in many cases, not even thinking about such a word--a philosophy that will come back to haunt many Boomers in later years, according to Torres-Gil.

"Baby Boomers are in relatively good shape compared to their parents and grandparents at comparable periods," says Torres-Gil. "But they will, however, face a set of advantages and disadvantages different from that of today's elders and the elderly that will follow later in the 21st century."

The disadvantages include getting married later in life, having fewer children and getting divorced more often than their parents--leading to a larger number of people living alone later in life. In addition, a longer life span--about 10 years longer than their parents and grandparents--places Boomers at risk of outliving their savings.

"The combination of those factors demonstrates that Baby Boomers have moved away from the traditional patterns of extended families and supportive networks of children and friends, the things that allow older persons to remain in their homes and their community," says Torres-Gil. "Hence, to the extent that they become frail, sick or dependent, they must recreate supportive relationships or rely on supportive forms of assistance."

That means a lot of Boomers may end up in government-supported long term care, which will be hard-pressed to accommodate additions to an already overwhelming group.

A May 2003 report developed by the departments of Health and Human Services and Labor, "The Future Supply of Long Term Care Workers in Relation to the Aging Baby Boom Generation," estimates that the nation will need between 5.7 million and 6.5 million long term care nurses, nurse aides, and home health and personal care workers to meet the needs of Baby Boomers by 2050--about three times the number that existed in 2000.

The shortage, if left unaddressed, "will affect all Americans in very personal ways," says Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, the report's co-author. She notes that steps must be taken now to help retain existing long term care workers and recruit new ones.

Bruce Rosenthal, director of media relations for the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging in Washington, D.C., adds that a labor shortage causes remaining workers to "shoulder unrealistic workloads."

He notes that the trend is likely to worsen in the future, as the demand for long term care increases [see "Broken and Unsustainable," p. 201].

Such news makes Griffin a less than happy man.

"It's a good thing I won't be 'retired' until at least 2022," he says. "That should give people a few years to make things right."

BABY BOOMERS VS. THE 'OLD GUARD'

How the Baby Boomer generation compares to its earlier counterparts, according to the U.S. Census Bureau:

Baby Boomers * Born between 1946 and 1964

* The largest generation ever born, 77 million strong, roughly 73 million still alive.

* Average household income is $41,700; 82 percent make more than $15,000

* Boomers have a history of "living the good life," pumping almost $200 million into the economy each year

* Life expectancy at birth was roughly 68 years

The War Babies

* Born between 1940 and 1945

* An estimated 12 million still alive

* Average household income is $46,400; 80 percent make more than $15,000

* The first generation exposed to "modern" conveniences such as television and low-cost automobiles. Spends $128 million annually

* Life expectancy at birth was roughly 64.4 years

The Swing Generation ("The Depression Era Kids")

* Born between 1930 and 1939

* An estimated 20.7 million still alive

* Average household income is $38,100; 87 percent of persons make more than $15,000

* Swing Generation folk are careful spenders, living up to the hard times of their childhood. Annual buying power for this group totals $100 million

* Life expectancy at birth was roughly 62 years

The G.I. Generation

* Born between 1915 and 1929

* An estimated 21.1 million still alive

* Average household income is $29,200; 50 percent make more than $15,000

* The children of World War I never acquired expensive taste, now buying $88 million in products annually

* Life expectancy at birth was roughly 56 years
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Overview
Author:Naditz, Alan
Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:1241
Previous Article:Market leaders.
Next Article:Not an easy sell: unlike previous generations, the Baby Boomer won't be as easy a draw to your long term care facility.
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