It is hard to predict how history will one day write about the American generation known as ‘baby boomers.’ But it is safe to say that volumes will be written about this amazing generation of once young — now aging — Americans.
The ‘boom’ — which lasted from 1946 to 1964 and resulted in more than 75 million births — will stand out for many things, not the least of which are the contributions made by boomers to science, technology, the arts and the overhaul, reshaping or pure invention of what is known as pop culture.
And while the spotlight is fading, like everything else about boomers, they leave with a bang and not in a hush.
Until 2030, approximately 10,000 baby boomers will be retiring every single day. Some will retire comfortably, others may struggle. But all, essentially, will leave the workforce.
Many will retire to places like The Gardens at St. Elizabeth, a senior living center near 32nd and Clay in Denver. And, because life expectancies are increasing, their stay may be extended.
Average U.S. life expectancy today is 77.9. However, if you make it to age 65 in reasonably good health, life expectancy rises to 82.2 for men and 84.9 for women.
“From 65 on, so many things are interwoven with each other,” says Beth Breen, Senior Executive Director of Centura Health and Home North State Retirement Communities. The five that St. Elizabeth’s focuses on are physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual. “How you stay active in each is important.”
For many, retirement is an off-ramp from a life of staid routines. Coming to live in a place like St. Elizabeth’s represents a significant change.
“When you have someone who was totally engaged in their work and all of a sudden it changes,” Breen says, “it’s not always easy.” Also, going from a place that was home for so many years to a new “home” of perhaps 500 square feet and a whole new group of neighbors is also a major adjustment.
Like many senior living centers, St. Elizabeth tries to create as many options for its residents as it can. While it still has bingo as an activity, the focus today is on more stimulation — mental and physical.
“Bingo is passé,” says Melissa Mattes, St. Elizabeth’s external sales representative. Residents can still play but most opt for day trips to the mountains or museums, shopping excursions, group walking through north Denver’s neighborhoods or movies. There are also Wii tournaments — electronic games — cooking classes, crafts and carpentry, though nothing big.
A number of St. Elizabeth’s residents still have their own cars. So each day they set their own agenda. “We have those who are still active in their outside community groups,” says Breen. They are free to go where they want and there is no curfew.
Like any aging population, St. Elizabeth’s has a group of residents that requires more specialized care. About a quarter of its residents have Alzheimer’s or dementia. “Our job is to help them,” she says. Those who fall into that group are monitored to make certain they don’t hurt themselves or present a problem for others.
The facility has a dietician that oversees the meals that are prepared for the residents. “We have a phenomenal meal program,” Breen says. The meals, she says, are tasty, aesthetic and nutritious. “We also monitor the residents to make sure they’re getting enough to eat.” If someone is losing weight, Breen says, they will discuss it with the resident to determine if the reason is physical or mental. “We want to make sure that if they are having a problem that we know about it.”
The social and emotional side of a resident’s well being is considered when St. Elizabeth’s staff puts together its monthly calendar. A few things it has incorporated into its activities include bringing in experts who can talk about everything from history to the arts. “We also work with Regis University,” Breen says. Nursing students come to the facility to “have one-on-one” conversations with residents.
St. Elizabeth has also worked in opportunities to engage with the community so that its residents can meet their north Denver neighbors. Local school children often have field trips to meet residents of St. Elizabeth. Breen says this program has worked wonderfully for both groups.
While St. Elizabeth’s methods for caring for its elderly are working, they are not necessarily a blueprint for the future. Boomers, who have notoriously marched to their own drummer, may have a say in things.
It might be nice to think the movie, “Cocoon,” will play out in real life. In the movie, a group of seniors found long-lost youth in an abandoned swimming pool.
But until or unless something like that happens, boomers will continue to age and places like St. Elizabeth will there to meet their needs.
Until then, Breen says, it is important to live smart. “Stay active — physically, mentally and emotionally, socially and spiritually.”
But if one must fight off old age, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw may have left the perfect advice: “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”