Monday, October 24, 2011

Start of Aging Boomers’ Golden Years Are Tarnished (October 21, 2011)


Nine years ago, when I wrote a column on the aging boomer generation (Americans born between 1946 and 1964), the Golden Years and retirement were still several years away. But this year, the first crop of more than 75 million boomers  more than a quarter of America’s population  reached retirement age. And, for the immediate future, full retirement for those still employed may be years away, especially if the economy remains on a snail’s pace to recovery. Even then, the golden years may not start out as hopeful as anticipated.
Until recently, I pretty much ignored Social Security or Medicare news. However, now that it has or is about to affect some friends, my peers and me, I’ve been keeping an eye (or ear, depending on when I get the news) on the subjects.
For instance, when it was announced this week that Social Security recipients would receive a 3.5 percent cost-of-living increase, the first in three years, in 2012, my ears perked up.
Recently, I’ve also been more aware than in the past of the glut of television, radio and print advertising for Medicare supplement insurance. I’m also trying to comprehend the assortment of mail I've received regarding the best offer. At one point I was saving every bit of mail and if I stacked it, it would easily have been over a foot high, but I sorted through the clutter and disposed of redundant pieces. Yet, it is still about six inches tall. It’s utterly confusing, too; though not as complex as the nation’s intricate tax code.
As boomers start to flood the entitlement system, politicians earnestly debate the future of Social Security and Medicare. Nonetheless, with the anticipated escalating demands they place on the government’s future finances, the nation’s leaders should have confronted and dealt with the matter years ago. Sure, the dilemma got partially sidetracked after the 2001 terrorist attacks, when national security was more urgent than social security, but that’s no longer an excuse for the delay, nor for becoming an issue that intensified the rift in national politics.
Every day for the next two decades, it is estimated that 10,000 people will reach age 65, according to the Pew Research Center. Some, in fact, have been trying to preserve their youthful appearances; with methodical physical activities, with minor modifications, such as hair dying, and others through medical treatments or cosmetic enhancements.
Science has yet to discover a means to delay or stop aging, or the wear and tear on mind and body, no matter how physically active your lifestyle has been. Some body parts begin to sag and slide; metabolism slows down; muscles degrade; fat accumulates and shifts to places we wish it didn’t. Medical procedures may temporarily postpone some changes, but sooner or later, everything goes kaput. No one has yet developed a body shop to do for humans what it can do for automobiles.
On the other hand, research on aging is expanding. But with it comes good and bad news. Don’t think for one minute that while some companies may be altruistically developing treatments to help us live better and longer, others aren’t exploiting us with unproven remedies. Carefully read those anti-aging advertisements and you will see in very small print that the FDA, which is not always the definitive validation, has not certified the product’s merit. And think twice when you read a product’s tests results, which are often not independent and, more often than not, conducted to support their affirmative claims.
Surveys reveal that most boomers are content and prepared for happy, healthy golden years. But some are disappointed, as they enter the September of their years that their hopes, dreams and financial expectations have been tarnished by a struggling economy.
Sociologists long ago labeled us boomers, but let’s hope, as we age, life is not a bummer.