A baby boomer tsunami on the way.By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin
A few weeks ago the “call” came. From the assisted living facility to me: I needed to run home from New York and get to the hospital. My 95-year-old mom was being taken there.
Thus began a journey not unfamiliar to so many. As I alluded to last time, the abyss of reality caused by dementia is very real.
It is a truth that impacts increasing numbers of people and will become a major issue (if it hasn’t already) for boomers. For, not only are our parents “enjoying” longevity, but we are expected to as well.
Here is an astounding statistic. Beginning on January 1, 2011, baby boomers will start turning 65 at a rate of one every eight seconds. This fact was recently published in a short, but powerful, op-ed piece titled “The Age of Alzheimer’s” (New York Times, October 28, 2010). It was co-written by Sandra Day O’Connor (the first woman justice to be appointed to the Supreme Court), Stanley Prusiner (a Nobel Prize winner and expert in neurological issues), and Ken Dychwald (an expert on issues of aging and baby boomers).
One of the main issues in this piece is the lack of concentrated funding for research: “The National Institutes of Health still spend about $3 billion a year on AIDS research, while Alzheimer’s, with five times as many victims, receives a mere $469 million.”
This is not to pit one disease against another; instead, it is to indicate that as the numbers of older adults continue to rise, we need to realize that the cost of caring for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s will skyrocket. As the article noted: “The United States spends $172 billion a year to care for people with Alzheimer’s. By 2020 the cumulative price tag, in current dollars, will be $2 trillion and by 2050, $20 trillion.”
Clearly, we are at the beginning of a major wave. The blessing of longevity can also, for some, become a curse. As many of you know, the impact on families—emotionally, spiritually and financially—can be overwhelming. There are many resources from many organizations that deal with issues of dementia and Alzheimer’s. May I suggest that the time may be right for your social group, church, synagogue, mosque, community center, etc., to develop some educational programming that can provide information and support not only for families and individuals who are dealing with this long good-bye, but also for those who will face it in the future.