American boomers have shorter life expectancy, studies show


A decade ago, my boomer-aged sister accompanied my 82 year-old mother to the doctor. The doctor said he always took the elderly patient’s blood pressure as well as the blood pressure of the grown daughter or son that escorted them.

Almost always, the grown child’s blood pressure was worse than the parent’s. This is known as the stress of the sandwich years, the doctor theorized.

When I heard the anecdote, I began to wonder if boomers would have the longevity everyone predicted for us. Would we perhaps die younger than anyone expected for reasons not yet apparent?

I shared my thoughts with a friend who is a health care futurist in the Washington, D.C., area, and he said he hadn’t seen any data supporting boomers having a shorter life expectancy.

That was 10 years ago. Recently, two troubling reports have made me wonder again.

The National Academy of Sciences recently reported that when the United States is compared to 16 peer countries, Americans have the least chance of making it to age 50, and if they do make it there, they are likely to have chronic illnesses and a greater chance of dying compared to their counterparts in the surveyed countries.

Furthermore, on May 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a fairly shocking report illustrating a 50-percent jump in suicide rates in adults ages 50 to 59 from 1999 to 2010. Suicides among that cohort of boomers have increased more than any other age group.

The recent economic downturn has been cited as one reason, in addition to prescription drug addictions and the stress of being caught in that caregiving sandwich.

My boomer friends and acquaintances have their theories that may or may not be borne out by research, including:

• Dashed expectations.

Boomers came of age in the 1960s and early 1970s — boom time in America. Many dads had good jobs. Many moms could stay home. Houses, cars, summer cabins and college educations were within reach of most middle-class families.

The environment you experience as a child often roots the expectations you carry into adulthood. That’s why Depression-era children grew up believing that money and goods would always be scarce.

Some boomers thought the cheap times of plenty would continue for them throughout their lives — and be guaranteed for their children. That hasn’t happened for most boomers.

• The end of youth and health.

Chronic illnesses — and everyday aches and pains — seem to surprise boomers. Perhaps our parents and grandparents didn’t talk enough about the aging process and how they had to sometimes force themselves out of bed each morning because of their bodies’ battle with time.

Aging happens, no matter how you prepare — or don’t. Some friends were recently comparing their hands and noted how arthritis had distorted their once perfect fingers. It’s surprising to see what aging does. We should have known what was coming our way, but most of us didn’t.

• The focus on work and “toys.”

Many boomers depended on work for their sense of identity and purpose. As you retire, or lose your job because of the economic downturn, your identity can exit the workplace, too.

Boomers also were the generation behind the greed-is-good 1980s. Ultimately, things don’t make you that happy. Those with the most “toys” don’t really win in the end.