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 article “Cohort Trends in the Burden of Multiple Chronic Conditions Among Aging U.S. Adults” in 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.