Death wish for boomers & elders?

Reaching for the hemlock in order not to be a burden…. this seems a little farther than most of us want to go. But the idea is crossing more than a few aging minds, reports CNN intern Sachin Seth on a recent blog.

Rather than burden their children with the daunting task of caring for them as they age, some baby boomers may be considering an extreme form of “relief.” Suicide.

Psychiatrist Mark Goulston says he’s been approached by some middle-aged patients who say they’d rather “take a bottle of pills” than inconvenience their children.

Dr. Goulston blames the problem on the impatient nature of “millennials” – the offspring of baby boomers – a trait he says was passed down from the boomers themselves.

Adding to their angst is their own experience of taking care of elderly parents, which sometimes leads to feelings of resentment. Baby boomers don’t want their own children to grow to resent and begrudge them when they get old and feeble.

There’s a video exchange between Goulston and CNN’s Don Lemon that’s worth watching, but won’t lift your spirits much.

Add to this don’t-be-a-burden dilemma — and it IS a dilemma that crosses the mind of everyone over 60 and most folks who have a parent over 60 — the bizarre situation of estate taxes right now and the whole business of dying gets seriously complicated. It was okay last year, when you knew estate taxes were magically going to disappear on January 1, 2010, so the focus was on staying alive until then.

Does this sound exciting? New TV channel for the over-50s

As if there weren’t already about 500 more TV channels than anyone can possibly manage, news comes from Britain about Vintage TV’s plans to launch in a few months.

It is the generation that has had it all: five decades of peace and prosperity, technological and social revolution bringing longer and more fulfilled lives, followed by fat pensions. Now, when they are tired of roaring about on their new motorbikes, working out at the gym or renovating their Umbrian farmhouses, the baby-boomer generation will be able to relax with its own television channel.

Vintage TV, which is due to begin broadcasting in September, is aimed at the over-fifties. It will focus on culture and music from the post-war rock’n’roll years – from the Berlin airlift to the fall of Mrs. Thatcher. The presenters lined up for Vintage, which will be available to 10 million viewers via Sky and Freesat, include veteran broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, 61. The Who singer Roger Daltrey, 66, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, 64, Yes keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, 61, are also set to appear.

One of the innovations on the 24-hour channel will be newly commissioned videos for 500 hits that were in the charts before they became a compulsory accompaniment for the MTV generation in the 1980s. The creators of Vintage said the programming would provide a “destination” for the fifty-somethings who find their interests squeezed by broadcasters looking to attract younger viewers.

No amount of Googling produced an answer to the burning question of whether Vintage TV will be offered to U.S. viewers, but couch potatoes have to hope. And this space, which does advertise itself as focusing (more or less) on issues of concern to over-50 generations, felt you should hear it here first.

We thought they had it all – now baby boomers get own TV channel – TV & Radio, Media – The Independent.

The AwareCar: Smarter than we are

OK, I do have a personal relationship with my car — her name is Iris, she plays soothing music (unless my granddaughter’s been in the front seat) while I’m navigating traffic and is a fine, fairly recent replacement for the ’77 Volvo my husband bought new. Although I’d rather walk or take the Muni almost anywhere, Iris keeps my grousing, and driving problems, to a minimum.

But now comes the AwareCar. The AwareCar proposes to figure out when I’m tired or distracted, remind me to put away the cell phone (not a problem, I do not cellphone-talk and drive), check my blood pressure, and when all else fails and I crash into something anyway, send vital information on ahead to the ER so they’ll be ready for me.

The AwareCar is the brainchild of the folks at AgeLab, an MIT project confronting the daunting fact that the 50+ population is the fastest growing segment in the world. Add to this the fact that we’re tending to live longer (unless you’re unlucky enough to be in Somalia or Iraq), with an American turning 50 every seven seconds, and you can see how AgeLab has its work cut out for it. No problem; they maintain that “an aging society is the opportunity to invent the future of healthy, active living.”

Wall Street Journal staff reporter Anne Tergesen recently alerted the world to the coming of the AgeCar, hopefully in time for some of these hordes of hard-driving Boomers. In an interview with AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin and Associate Director Bryan Reimer (who hold those same titles with New England University Transportation Center) Tergesen quoted Dr. Coughlin’s response to her question, “As they age, what are Baby Boomers likely to want in a car?”:

Unlike their parents, this is a generation that isn’t going to say, “I’m getting older, so I’m not going to travel as much.” The boomers are working more and are far more engaged in daily activities than their parents were at a comparable age. Their expectations are far greater for products that facilitate their independence and mobility as they age. The impact on the car isn’t going to be about design, because no matter how old we get, we want our cars to look forever youthful. Instead, the boomers want the car to allow them to lead a forever-youthful lifestyle. That means it has to provide not only mobility but also safety and semi-automated features.

Thus enters the AgeCar, who is indeed likely to put Iris and her nifty sun roof in the shade. Its prototype — or perhaps more accurately its forerunner — is a Volvo XC90 currently cruising around Cambridge, MA with, Tergesen tells us, “$1.5 million of medical, computer, camera and robotic equipment. The goal? To create an AwareCar capable of sensing when a driver is distracted, faitgued or otherwise prone to accidents — and intervening to ensure a safe ride.”

To which I say, not a moment too soon. My son is about to turn 50.

Boomers & the high cost of dying

As health reform slogs along, a few critical pieces are already gone for good — or for now, at least. One of the saddest is coverage for end-of-life conversations; one of the saddest elements of our culture in general and healthcare mish-mash in particular is the tendency to treat death as a curable disease. Timothy Egan, in a recent blog for the New York Times, makes an eloquent case for injecting a little reality into all this.

In the last days of her life, Annabel Kitzhaber had a decision to make: she could be the tissue-skinned woman in the hospital with the tubes and the needles, the meds and smells and the squawk of television. Or she could go home and finish the love story with the man she’d been married to for 65 years.

Her husband was a soldier who had fought through Europe with Patton’s army. And as he aged, his son would call him on D-Day and thank him – for saving the world from the Nazis, for bequeathing his generation with a relatively easy time.

That son, John Kitzhaber, knew exactly what his mother’s decision meant. He was not only a governor, a Democrat who served two terms in Oregon as it tried to show the world that a state could give health care to most of its citizens, but a doctor himself.

At age 88, with a weak heart, and tests that showed she most likely had cancer, Annabel chose to go home, walking away from the medical-industrial complex.

“The whole focus had been centered on her illness and her aging,” said Kitzhaber. “But both she and my father let go that part of their lives that they could not control and instead began to focus on what they could control: the joys and blessings of their marriage.”

She died at home, four months after the decision, surrounded by those she loved. Her husband died eight months later.

The story of Annabel and Albert Kitzhaber is no more remarkable than a grove of ancient maple trees blushing gold in the early autumn, a moment in a life cycle. But for reasons both cynical and clinical, the American political debate on health care treats end-of-life care like a contagion — an unspeakable one at that.

Kitzhaber, having seen the absurdities of the system — Medicare would pay hundreds of thousands for continuing treatments but not $18 an hour for an in-home caregiver to help her die as she chose — was among the thousands of us who were distressed to see the debate get sidetracked by misinformation and outright lies. He knows the truth: that changing the way we treat dying people is the only way real economies and compassionate reform will happen. He is not only a politician, currently running for a third term as governor of Oregon, the state that has shown us the way, but a physician. And he’s smack in the middle of the Baby Boomer generation. Egan cites the recent Newsweek cover article by Evan Thomas, “The Case for Killing Granny,” and its on-target line about this being the elephant in the room, “Everybody sees it, but nobody wants to talk about it.

John Kitzhaber, M.D., politician, and son who watched both parents die in a dignified way, cannot stop talking about it. His parents’ generation won the war, built the interstate highway system, cured polio, eradicated smallpox and created the two greatest social programs of the 20th century — Social Security and Medicare.

Now the baton has been passed to the Baby Boomers. But the hour is late, Kitzhaber says, with no answer to a pressing generational question: “What is our legacy?”

The Way We Die Now – Timothy Egan Blog – NYTimes.com.

Watching Idols and Icons Die

An article in yesterday’s New York Times chronicled the recent “funereal season” that has seen the passage of such players on the national stage as Walter Cronkite, Les Paul, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Ted Kennedy and Patrick Swayze. Add to that the death this week of singer Mary (“Peter, Paul and Mary”) Travers. Although Times writer Sarah Kershaw noted that no more celebrities died this summer than in summers past, a couple of other elements are in play: the particular folks who departed the stage in recent months did so just as Baby Boomers are hitting retirement age, and they were the people who “defined (the Boomers) as a tribe, bequeathing through music, culture, news and politics as a kind of generational badge that has begun to fray.”

Generational badge-fraying is not necessarily a bad thing. As long as one wears the badge lightly on the pocket and occasionally notices which threads are coming loose, in fact, I maintain it is downright healthy. Contemplation of our terminal condition could do most of us a lot of good.

(Specifically, a few of those Boomers who have been putting off getting their advance directives done (OK, I see your eyes glazing over, but stick with me here) will start thinking about doing so. Or at the very least, have a little talk with their significant others about how long they’d like to be kept on life support if they have a stroke tomorrow. Getting this done today leaves tomorrow for enjoying everything else. Plus, it encourages calm; see below.)

Walter Cronkite wound up a long and happy life at 93. But Ted Kennedy was 77, one year older than yours truly. Farrah Fawcett was 62. Patrick Swayze, 57; Michael Jackson, 50. DJ AM Adam Goldstein was 36. The reality is that we’re all terminal; most of us terminate before we’re quite ready but it does happen. Acknowledging that fact can be ridiculously freeing.

The Boomers are reportedly worried not only about the finiteness of their lives, but also about their legacy. The Times article quoted a survey of 1,000 Americans age 44 to 79 conducted by AARP, which found that 55 percent believed they would leave the world worse off than they found it. That prospect can turn you gray in a hurry. But these near-retirees are not planning just to sit around getting gray.

Loss of their legends, according to Marc Freedman, author of “Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America, has created in this generation a sense of both the “expansion and compression of time,” and they are looking toward second careers doing good. “I think this is the first time so many have simultaneously had an awareness of death and the prospect of a whole new act,” Mr. Freedman says. Many of those new acts may turn the above expectation around, so the world might be left a little better off than they found it.

To which the post-Boomers say, Go Boomers.