In 1946, 3.4 million babies were born in the U.S., a jump of 22% from the previous year. The surge of births continued, year after year, until 1964. By that time 78 million "baby boomers" had joined the population, creating a huge demographic bulge that flourished in America's postwar prosperity.
Now, with the first of them turning 60,Webmd.com reports the baby boomers are about to do something utterly conventional and predictable. They're going to start getting old and begin developing health problems. They're also going to retire from the workforce and potentially need help at home. Boomers are expected to live longer than any previous generation of Americans. So who will take care of them?
The Silver Tsunami
Baby boomers now make up 26% of the U.S. population. A fragile, dependent population of aging boomers would place tremendous demands on Medicare, and require lots of support from professional caregivers and the boomers' children. Their children are caught in the sandwich generation – taking care of their kids and now, taking care of their parents. This job usually falls to the eldest daughter but today she typically has a job and can’t be there when mom or dad falls or needs help making dinner or simply wants to talk to someone. Enter home care; screened and professionally trained caregivers who help ease the burden for families already strapped for time.
Baby Boomers Living Longer with Health Issues
This growing number of seniors will have health problems and will need someone to take them to the doctor and serve as another set of eyes and ears at appointments. Widespread obesity among boomers, combined with a lack of exercise, could lead to an epidemic of diabetes, which dramatically accelerates aging and leads to a host of chronic diseases. Their adult children, strapped for time, barely can make it to their doctor appointments, never mind leaving work to take their parents to the doctor.
Some Baby Boomers Will Live Perfectly Healthy Lives
Some baby boomers, however, will enjoy not just increased longevity but better health as well. In 2005, the age-adjusted death rate for heart disease, the leading cause of death, was 64% lower than the rate in 1950. The age-adjusted death rate for stroke, the third leading cause of death, declined 74% since 1950.
That suggests that many boomers may be aging more slowly than previous generations because of healthy habits, such as less smoking and more exercise.
Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells WebMD, “I think there's a lot of evidence that people are healthier mentally and physically than they used to be."
Whether healthy or unhealthy, Baby Boomers will live longer and will need someone to take care of them. That burden will fall to the family unless professional caregivers step in to help.