Baby boomers reach retirement, questions about costs begin

Published: Sunday, Dec. 26 2010 12:12 a.m. MST

Worthington would like to retire in his mid-60s, but "we'll have to wait and see. That's my goal and I think I'm on track for it." He and his wife, Linda, have six kids, ages 13 to 28, and they're what is fun for him. "I enjoy doing things with them, having them around. ...Sometimes I love to just sit and listen to them and not say a word."

He considers himself a baby boomer, while White does not. But he says he is more like the young ones than the old.

Ask Payne his generation's highs and lows and he offers this: "The greatest foolishness would probably have been the sexual revolution or experimentation with drugs or both, the excesses of the early- to mid-'70s. But I think they questioned the status quo, authority, the thought that financial success equals success. That's all good. You should focus on other things besides making money."

DON'T CALL ME OLD

Because boomers are so diverse, the organizations that serve them must be, as well, says Laura Polacheck, director of AARP in Utah. "Someone 50 years old today might have an 8-year-old, while a generation ago, that was more unusual."

Boomers often deal with children who come back after college, as well as cope in some cases with aging parents. Local senior centers are trying to reinvent themselves for a generation that sees itself as younger and hipper than its predecessors. The cafeteria-style atmosphere is being replaced by personable cafes with both stylish seating and trendy ways to stay in shape. Meals are healthier, low in sodium and offered at donation-only prices.

"We need to adapt to people who are used to eating out," said Salt Lake County Aging Services director Sarah Brenna.

The St. George Senior Citizens Center attracts younger seniors with classes ranging from Tai Chi to line dancing.

And speaking of senior citizens, they'd rather not be called that. It makes them feel old.

Advocates are collaborating to prevent dementias and other cognitive diseases, which will affect half of those 85 and older. Because of a healthy lifestyle that helps people live longer, that's a potential problem for Utah, says Carrie Schonlaw, the Five County aging director.

Utah has one of the largest per-capita Alzheimer's rates; the St. George center teams with the Alzheimer's Association to prevent it.

"We offer activities to keep the brain healthy, which is a good prevention," says Shanna Bland, center supervisor.

Delaying severe cognitive decline — one of the happy byproducts of delayed retirement, by the way — is only half the medical preparation for the boom tsunami.

Physicians trained in geriatrics are in short supply, but around age 65, two-thirds of seniors have at least one chronic disease; 20 percent have five or more and see as many as 14 physicians over an average of 40 doctor visits a year, says the American Medical Association board chairman, Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven.

The drastically increased number of older Americans will inevitably mean more people dependent on long-term care. Area aging agencies are creating home-based care options, which are more cost-effective and better for seniors than nursing homes. Money to support informal caregivers like neighbors and relatives will ultimately save thousands, says Brenna.

Besides care for themselves, boomers may need support caring for others, says Supiano.

A suburb-obsessed America is coming to terms with needs that include walkable neighborhoods, more bus routes and other public transportation, even street signs that are easier to read. Baby boomers have brought more awareness of the need for multi-generational and intergenerational design, Wright says. But it's all a work in progress.

"I say, and it is a wisdom from the past, 'May you live in an interesting age'," says Wright. "And that would be us — both a blessing and a curse. It will become what we make of it — but it will be interesting, if that is what we want."

e-mail: lois@desnews.com

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