Boomer health is failing earlier than our parents

In a very roundabout way, I learned recently that we Baby Boomers are the first generation in American history to have worse physical and mental health than previous generations. Disturbing huh. Along with celebrating my Mom’s 89th birthday this week, I got some results back from a two hour test of my memory, a baseline for future understanding of how my memory is changing. One of the most concerning findings to me was that I suffer from apathy and depression. So, like a good researcher, I started checking to see how common these feelings are among my own generation. Come to find out:

“Americans born between 1948 and 1965 are more likely than the generations that preceded them to have multiple health problems as they age. Many develop two or more health conditions up to 20 years sooner than folks from other generations…” according to the articleCohort Trends in the Burden of Multiple Chronic Conditions Among Aging U.S. Adultsin the June 2022 issue of The Journals of Gerontology

It seems our apathy may be showing… This study classified people, based on the generation they were born into, like this: Greatest generation (born 1923 or earlier); early children of the Depression (1924 to 1930); late children of the Depression (1931 to 1941); war babies (1942 to 1947); early boomers (1948 to 1953); mid boomers (1954 to 1959); and late baby boomers (born 1960 to 1965).

The researchers looked at nine chronic conditions: heart disease; high blood pressure; stroke; diabetes; arthritis; lung disease; cancer (except skin cancer); depression symptoms; and trouble with memory and thinking skills. Among adults with multiple chronic health problems, arthritis and high blood pressure were the most common for all generations, higher rates of depression and diabetes drove the surge in chronic conditions seen in boomers. Some links can be found between the introduction of fast food and television:

“Fast food restaurants became very popular during the 1950s because families were busy and they needed a place where they could quickly pick up food; people also wanted to be able to get quick food that they could eat in front of their new TVs.”

In other trends, American baby boomers scored lower on tests of cognitive functioning than did members of previous generations, according to a 2020 nationwide study. Findings showed that average cognition scores of adults aged 50 and older increased from generation to generation, beginning with the greatest generation (born 1890-1923) and peaking among war babies (born 1942-1947). These scores began to decline in the early baby boomers (born 1948-1953) and decreased even further among middle baby boomers (born 1954-1959).

 What was most surprising to me is that this decline could be seen in all groups: men and women, across all races and ethnicities and across all education, income and wealth levels. Results showed lower cognitive functioning in boomers was linked to less wealth, higher levels of loneliness, depression, inactivity and obesity, and less likelihood of being married. Could this also be linked in some way to how many of us have tried to live up to our parents’ demands and standards and failed?

The biggest concern is that these apparent trends in lower cognitive functioning in those in their 50s and 60s, could lead to a higher rate of dementia as we age. Among the aging population in the United States, we are already seeing an increase in the number of Americans with dementia. This may continue in our future.

Tolkien: The story of his life and inspirations

As you might guess, I love stories about writers and how they eventually came to produce their works. Along these lines, I can highly recommend the movie Tolkien, a 2019 American biographical film about the early life of English professor J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as many notable academic works.

This is a beautifully composed and filmed, sensitive presentation on the lives of four young men who enthusiastically went to fight World War I, and how only two of them came home again. Starting from Tolkien’s poverty-stricken beginnings, he lived with his widowed mother until he found her dead one day. He then was taken in by a kindly rich woman who found a way to send him to college. Tolkien struggles there, but attracts the attention of a prominent philology professor, when Tolkien realizes that language is his true passion. By chance, that kindly rich woman also adopted a girl named Edith, who would figure prominently in Tolkien’s life.

The scenes from the battle of the Somme in France are so powerfully presented and filmed. The excitement of the young men to go fight a war are so skillfully juxtapositioned with the realities of trench warfare. In fact everything about this film is well-thought out and presented.

Edith and Tolkien

While many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings led directly to a resurgence of this genre. Eventually Tolkien came to be popularly identified as the “father” of modern fantasy writing and more specifically “high fantasy.”

Personal note: I have never been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. I did not read his books and I walked out of the first film “The Hobbit.” I’m not much on fantasy, but I love this film about Tolkien’s life. Mike has tried to encourage my interest in fantasy stories. Perhaps I’ll try again with the film “The Hobbit.”

Gratitude for Internet Friends!

With so many nasty things happening on the Internet these days, I would like to call attention to a few marvelous friends I have made over the years and recognize a wonderful source for these friendships. The “Women of Midlife” group on Facebook was started about a decade ago to attract and assist women writers with support and friendship. I joined as soon as it formed, and through the years, as I read the writing of various other women past age 40, I developed online friendships. But I had no idea how much these women meant to me until I ran my last post about aging faster than my friends.

I wrote there about friendship loss as we age and our health begins to fail and was astounded by the response from the friendships I have developed over the years on “Women of Midlife.” These few women have watched me grow as a writer and as a woman over the years and therefore understand best my frustrations with brain injury and how that is now limiting my abilities to communicate and connect with others. They also seem to know that it has been quite difficult for me to make any real friends in my new environment in rural southern Colorado.

One message in particular hit home for me:

“Laura, you have always been tenacious in your hold on life. Your connection to nature often pulls you through. Your love for those in your life MAKES YOU YOUNGER than many. And finally your mental strength. I believe when we lose some of the physical the mental takes over. That is certainly the case with you.”

Blessings, Beth

I had no idea Beth understood my struggles so well and yet continue because of my desire to keep pressing on in spite of multiple challenges. I knew that some women, whom I have known for years but have never met in person, do care for me, but this response was unmistakable in its understanding, love and concern.

Thank you to “Women of Midlife” for fostering these kinds of close online friendships!

P.S. I also just learned what ‘ghosting’ is from one of those friends. Shame on those who do it!

What it feels like to age faster than my friends

Recently I have begun to realize that what I am experiencing at age 67 is what most in my age cohort will experience later. Because of my present health concerns, lung disease and a few serious brain injuries, I feel now what most in my age group may not feel for a decade or two. This has come home to me with a few recent occurrences.

First is my upcoming 50th high school reunion next summer. At first I got confused about whether it was this year or next year, and when I realized it was next summer that they were trying to schedule for, I had to respond with, “I’m not sure if I’ll even be here by then…Either way I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to come.” 

I have also recently heard from a few friends from decades ago. My best friend from high school wrote out of the blue to “catch up.” She is probably a typical 67-year-old who recently retired, loves to travel, and is proud of her children and grandchildren. They seem to have very few health problems. I told her the truth about my situation. I didn’t hear anything back, period.

Same with a lover/friend from my mid-20s. He sent me a brief e-mail in April saying, “Hope all is well.” I sent him a summary of my life now and received stark silence in return when I told him the truth about what is happening with me.

One thing is for certain, my life experiences in the past decade or so have changed my outlook on life. One cannot suffer a traumatic brain injury and fractured ribs, with periods of unconsciousness over 24 hours, without seeing life differently. Now I see that experience as a gift, one which greatly raised my appreciation of life while showing me that death is truly not so unusual or scary. We may simply experience an accident, lose consciousness and it’s over. Is that so bad?

Losing my ability to breathe without oxygen has taught me compassion for those who lose any basic ability that others take for granted. I know now how others can suffer from judgments from others and how harsh I may have been by unconsciously judging those with limited abilities through no fault of their own.

These challenges and insights I face now are the same as many in my age group will face eventually. I’m just getting an early start. I find my experiences so revealing about disability and aging. I try to face all new experiences with a sense of wonder and curiosity. Too bad others seem to want to avoid looking at my life now and possibly their our future.

The end of a rainy July in my southern Colorado sky garden…

After almost four inches of rain this month, my sky garden is a bit subdued this morning. Mount Mestas looks like it has a dollop of cream on top.

The Blue Mist Spirea is completely out now, but I’m afraid all this rain at once is giving my lavender some root rot!

The bumble bees are showing all my plants some love, but especially the Spirea right now.

Buddha is loving the rain!

And my late blooming magenta yarrow is finally catching up with its yellow brother…

This view from 2019 of the Spanish Peaks and the Sangres shows why we call it the “Sky Garden”