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Boomers Living Longer but Sicker?

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

“Healthy Boomers” might be a rarer breed than we want to believe, at least according to recently released study.

When researchers compared U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) of people ages 46 to 64 in the years 2007 to 2010 (Boomers) to the same information for people in that age range between 1988 and 1994 (the Silent Generation) they found 40% of Boomers to be obese compared to 29% in the prior generation. They also became chronically ill earlier in life, had a greater number of limitations in what they could do at work, and are more likely to need a cane or walker. At the same time, Boomers are living longer than the previous generation.

But is this just a case of Boomers gorging on too many Twinkies and getting sick as a result?

It’s not just Boomers who are more likely to be obese these days. The NHANES website itself states that “Between  1988–1994 and 2007–2008 the prevalence of obesity increased in adults at all  income and education levels.”  That is alarming and we do need to mend our wayward ways, but let’s not single out Boomers for the redirection.

The fact that we are diagnosed with chronic diseases sooner and have to live with them longer is probably not really about accelerating decline either.  In the last 20 years,  there has been an aggressive effort within the healthcare system to diagnose people earlier in the hope that by doing so, chronic conditions can be more easily controlled.

Yes, people are probably being diagnosed earlier than those with the same conditions would have been 20 years ago.  But how many of those in the prior generation would have been similarly diagnosed if the technology to do it had been available and the healthcare mindset had been the same when they were that age?

This spike in obesity and chronic illness is a worry, please don’t get me wrong.  But you can’t tell people “accept this sooner so we can help you manage it” and then be alarmed that the number of diagnoses has increased.

Plus, it is far more fashionable to be chronically ill these days.  In 1988, using a cane or needing concessions at work was a sign of weakness.  People who needed them didn’t ask for them because they didn’t want to be viewed as “handicapped.”  The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and strengthened in 2008.  Now what people ask for–and get–as concessions is mind boggling.

Is this “news” really about Boomers being a bigger mess than they want to admit?  Or is it about how far into “healthcare” we have all marched–to the point of expecting pills instead of finding ways to exercise and asking for “procedures” instead of making healthier lifestyle choices?

This kind of news article makes me angry.  It’s fatalistic and implies helplessness.  “Boomers are going to be fat and old for a long time.”  It smacks of some Millenial enjoying the deterioration of the people who are “in the way” of their own advancement.

What’s really going on here?  Let’s ask more questions instead of just assuming that Boomers have been sitting on their butts too much (which they probably have, but they aren’t alone.)

  •  Boomers are the first generation to have “careers” and face the unrelenting stress of this version of a job market.  How does job stress fit into the situation?
  • Boomers are the first generation to live with the advertising that popularized the notion that you’re not supposed to have pain–and that if you do, you need to pop a pill to make it stop.  Does that thinking result in overuse of the healthcare system?  Does that overuse mean over-diagnosis?  Does the over-diagnosis create health problems in and of itself?  Is that contributing to this observed decline?
  • Boomers are the generation that first tasted diet soda, “lite” entres stuffed with chemicals in lieu of calories, baked goods with more fake ingredients than real ones, and chemicals of all sorts in everything from bottled water to underwear.  What is that doing to our bodies?  And are those of Boomers simply the ones that have had the most time to accumulate all that toxic residue?

Is this just about Boomers being a mess or is this about the way we are all taking care or (or not taking care) of ourselves?

As a nation, we need a heavy, across the board dose of “natural.”

  1. We need to eat food that still looks like what it was when it was alive. (Vegetarians included–What’s with the Gardenburgers??!)
  2. We need get outside and move our bodies doing something positive–whether it’s walking the dog, rock climbing, or joining a cause that gets you hip deep in mud.
  3. We need to slow down enough to notice our own breathing.
  4. And we need to stop saying “tomorrow” to all things things our hearts yearn for–like peace and harmony and some fun now and then.

This is not about Boomers in decline.  This is about all of us in decline.  The thing we need to take away from this article is not “Boomers are losing it.”  The thing we need to understand is that the route we’re all on is not a good one.  But we can change.  All of us.  Boomers included.



How Big IS This Problem?

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

When things go wrong, it’s easy to assume there’s something worse going on than is actually the case. I learned this in my kitchen recently.

A week ago, my sweetie mentioned that the toaster was broken.  I thought maybe he’d just not had it completely plugged in when he discovered this, so I checked it myself.  (I am more familiar with this particular toaster.)  He was sort of right.  The toaster didn’t work when I plugged it in either.

Later that same day, I realized the cordless phone in my office wasn’t working.  The main phone of  that set is in the kitchen, so I checked that next.  It didn’t work either.  This duet had been part of the family for a while, so I assumed the main one had died of natural causes and taken the auxillary with it.

I got tired of running upstairs to the bedroom to answer the phone before I got tired of making toast in the oven–I replaced the phones first.  (Note:  this was the more complicated of the two malfunctions to remedy.  Duh.)  I installed the batteries, set up both phones, plugged them in, and left them to charge for the night.  The problem would be history in the morning, right?

Nope.  The  phone still didn’t work.

That’s when I remembered that the outlet where we use the toaster and the outlet where the main phone is plugged in are on the same circuit.  I got the toaster out of the trash (I know–gross) and tested it on a different circuit.  Back in the toast business!

I wrote myself a note to call the handyman about fixing the circuit.  I didn’t want to bother him on the weekend so we did without that circuit, which we use a lot, for two more days.  But at least we could make toast…

When I spoke with my ever so practical handyman, this little equioment failure project took an important turn in the right direction.  He asked if I’d checked GFI outlet that’s on that circuit.  “Of course,” I replied.  “The green light isn’t lit.”

“But did you try to do a reset on it?”

Oops.   Ah…duh…..

I didn’t need a new toaster.  I didn’t need new phones.  I didn’t need to repair the wiring in my house.  I just needed to reset the GFI outlet.  I could do that myself in literally ten seconds and did while I finished the conversation with the handyman.

Maybe this kind of behavior is why we go to the doctor so often.  We assume the worst rather than looking at easier-to-remedy scenarios.  A cold becomes “Maybe I’m coming down with pneumonia.”  And that fatigue?  Well, it could be tuberculosis or blocked arteries or whatever you’re imagining.  But it could be that you’re not drinking enough water.

The worst part of making this mistake in a medical situation  is that once you go to the doctor, it’s highly likely they’re going to collude with you and spend huge amounts of time, money, and resources looking for that complicated possibility.  Even if all that’s needed is a simple lifestyle change.  Or just three more days to get over that cold.

Most of the time, something much simpler is probably going on.  But professional medicine these days is not geared to simple solutions.  There’s so much technology and so many drugs to bring to bear that the non-technical options might not even been on the radar in many cases.

We need to do this part for ourselves as a baseline effort.  Really think about what simple things might be causing the problem, whether it’s medical or otherwise.  Seeing if the small things over which you have total control can make a difference rather than immediately assuming it’s a major problem can make your life a who lot smoother.


Being a Smart Healthcare Consumer

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Healthcare has become an astronomically expensive part of life. There are lots of directions to point fingers, but the only place where you have any real control is your own behavior. Taking care of your health without being taken over by the system is a tricky proposition.

What can we do to be good healthcare consumers?

Seeing it as your personal responsibility instead of expecting someone to make you feel better whenever you don’t is a great start. We all need to take responsibility for eating wisely, being active enough to keep our bodies functioning well, and foregoing things that aren’t good for us physically—like tobacco and stress.

That’s a personal quest that will be unique for each of us, but it’s still ours to do. Too often, we agree to take a pill instead of improving our lifestyle choices. That’s simpler for “the machine” than keeping track of how you’re doing on an ongoing basis and it’s simpler for you.

But think about the side effects. Very rarely do prescription drugs come with positive side effects. When you agree to take that pill instead of going the “harder” route, you may well end up with another problem—or more than one–because of what the drug is doing to your body. With lifestyle choices, the opposite is true. When you decide to start walking to reduce your stress, you’ll soon discover that it’s also helping you with your weight, your endurance, and maybe even your mental outlook.

So as a first step, every time you have the option, choose to make the lifestyle choice rather than asking your body to deal with a drug–or a surgical procedure.

The second piece of this is being selective in how you interact with your healthcare providers. An intelligent approach to healthcare is no longer simply a case of knowing when to call the doctor. Many healthcare organizations give you more than one option for getting help. Calling the 24/7 Nurse Hotline may give you enough information to deal with the problem. Going to the urgent care clinic instead of the emergency room will get you in and out faster. (Get your medical drama on TV.)

Forego the temptation of asking the doctor to “fix it” every time you feel uncomfortable. Seeing your family physician for a head cold after three days wastes your time and someone’s (yours or Medicare’s) money. Many things go away on their own if given the chance. Be smart about deciding both when you need to get your healthcare provider involved and how you access them. Learn the difference between “pain” and “discomfort.”

Every time you end up in that doctor’s office you take on two additional risks. First, because sick people go there, you might end up catching something a lot worse than what you went to get help with. Second, once you are “in the system,” your control over what will and won’t be done diminishes considerably.

To stay as far away from “the machine” as you can and still be responsible, you need to make wise decisions about both IF and HOW to get your health care providers involved.

The third leg of this stool is having as much in place as you can so that when you do need significant amounts of medical care, your healthcare providers and loved ones are aware of what you do and don’t want. If you are coherent, ask questions. Find out what the procedure they want to do will accomplish and why it’s important to do it.

It also helps to do all you can to identify what’s happening yourself. Make a strong effort to explain the pain or problem concisely rather than just saying “My side hurts.” We could probably save ten hours of every medical professional’s work week if we were better at this. They are trying to help. If you don’t help them, they will resort to more tests and procedures to figure out things you could have told them.

Be clear—with your family and the medical staff—about what’s wrong, what you need, and what you don’t want.

These three strategies might not keep healthcare totally out of your life, but they will help you minimize your encounters with it. Sounds good to me.


The No-Cost Face Lift

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Announcing a no-cost, non-surgical way to look younger!!!


We spend a lot of time, money, and effort trying to “make the most of what we’ve got,” but there really is a lot of truth to the suggestion that inner beauty improves your looks far more effectively.  And inner beauty is totally a matter of personal choices rather than medical advances.

We tend to believe that the things we want most are going to cost us.  Beauty (or “handsomeness” if you prefer) is one of those things.  But beauty is more about what you’re thinking than which face cream you’re using.  Or how many cosmetic surgery procedures you can afford.

And there are more pluses to inner beauty than looking good, too.  Research has demonstrated a strong correlation between a positive attitude and both longevity and good health.  So if you want to be beautiful, healthy, and long-lived, work on your smile.

Most Friday nights I dance to rock ‘n roll with my friend Diane.  She is a pretty woman in the commercial sense of the word.  But when she dances, she becomes ten times more beautiful—because she beams the whole time she is on the dance floor.  She also talks to everyone in the place and learns about them in neighborly terms.  (Last night, we went to a new place and the first couple with whom she struck up a conversation was from Scotland!)  This woman literally lights up the room with her attitude.  She’s one of my favorite role models.

Choosing to be happy with whatever the day brings is a major plus for health reasons.  Choosing to share a smile every chance you get is better than Botox for how you come across.

So…how do you keep that smile?

• Choose not to judge other people.  Judging is stern work.  Look in the mirror the next time you’re in the middle of deciding someone else is wrong.  You’re scowling, right?  Most of our judgments are unnecessary—no action resulted from what you decreed.  You just felt some negative thought—self-righteousness or irritation maybe—and then hung onto it like it was Holy Writ.

Even worse, we are often wrong in what we decide is the case.  One of my favorite sayings is “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by ignorance.”   It keeps me from berating someone else’s dumb choice—like cutting me off on the freeway.  “They just didn’t know any better” leaves me with an easy smile.   “That arrogant bastard in the disgusting Hummer should be ticketed for aggressive driving” doesn’t keep me as serene.  Or as attractive.

• Notice the good stuff in your day.   It doesn’t have to be huge to make a difference.  I once sat in traffic admiring the shade of red in the stoplight.  I was on my way to an appointment with a therapist—and that stoplight made me realize my world was fine and I didn’t need to see her any more.

• Hope.  Believe in the goodness of life and your own potential.  Even if your prospects aren’t promising at the moment, keep trying and keep going.  Hope is a key element of a good life, but we don’t tend to focus on it until we’ve lost it.  Do all you can to keep yours in your life all the time.

• Let it go.  We tend to want to control what goes on in our lives—to be the one who decides how things are going to be.  When things don’t go the way we want, we dwell on it, replaying the dissatisfying situation again and again.  All this does is make you look ugly (really!).  Letting go of whatever happened five minutes ago keeps you ready for whatever is coming next.  It also gives your mind enough space to notice the good stuff that’s going on now. Smiling in the now is priceless.

If you want to look young forever, be happy.  There’s no predetermining gene for this.  Anyone at all can learn to smile.   It starts with being happy, and being happy is a choice.  Choose to be happy and smile.  The more you do, the more you will—and the more beautiful you will be on an on-going basis.


Health Care Fantasy

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Imagine a healthcare system where everyone knows what everyone else is doing on your behalf.  Where they really want you to get well and don’t feel the need to do test after test to cover their butts.  Where the doctors and other healthcare professionals are on salary and all part of the same effort.

Imagine they have the whole thing set up online, so you get the results of lab tests, xrays, etc. as soon as they are available (as opposed to “never’ which is typically the case).  Imagine that you can confer with your doctor via an e-mail instead of a $140 office visit and an hour waiting in the company of sick people.

And imagine that this utopic system is via a health insurance set-up that costs less than the bloated, “silo mentality”  mess you are dealing with now.

It exists–at least in Washington State.  I finally got mad enough to look for something better and it had been there all along.  For the first time in fifteen years, I actually believe my medical resources are something more than a drain on my wallet.

If this country wants to figure out how to fix our horrendous healthcare mess with its astronomical costs and second-rate results, look at Group Health Cooperative and others like it.

Quality health care is never going to come from anything that’s focused on a profit.  That rules out the big pharmaceutical companies, many hospitals, and all the doctors who are part of “professional corporations.”  It rules out anybody who’s “in it for the money.”  It rules in the professionals who care about keeping people well.

We can do this, but the fat cats and the big outfits are not going to like it.  So what?