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Readers Lament Decline in Boomer Health

The share of people in their late 50s with the second most severe form of obesity has tripled since the early 1990s. This grim fact, featured in a recent Squared Away article, clarifies COVID-19’s danger to older Americans.

The article, “Our Parents Were Healthier at Ages 54-60,” summarized research establishing that baby boomers are less healthy than their parents’ generation due to several conditions related to obesity, including diabetes, pain levels, and difficulty performing daily activities. The poorest Americans’ health deteriorated the fastest – and COVID-19 is preying on them.

“This decline in markers of metabolic health seems to correlate with increased vulnerability to the pandemic,” wrote one reader, Dan O’Brien, who was among several who commented on recent health-related blogs.

That’s what happened during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009. Hospitalizations – and possibly death rates – were tied to obesity in adults with multiple health conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“The vast majority of [COVID-19 patients] who reach the ICU suffer from comorbidities. My takeaway is that metabolic dysfunction is tied to immune-system failure in ways we don’t yet understand,” O’Brien said.

Another reader, Lorraine Porto, advocated a simple way for people to keep their weight in check: walk. An elderly woman she knows “walked miles every week.” Porto believes this healthy habit saved the woman’s life when she broke her hip in her 80s and was “walking around, sprightly as ever, less than two months later.” The woman lived into her 90s, Porto said.

A second health-related blog popular with readers looked at the unexpected costs of treating medical conditions that become more common in old age.

Older workers and retirees who try to anticipate their future medical expenses might feel a bit like they’re throwing a dart at a dartboard. The researchers did the work for them in a study described in the blog, “Unexpected Retirement Costs Can be Big.”

The researchers measured and ranked how much specific health care expenses eroded net worth among the retirees they tracked over many years: nursing home care costs were the highest ($43,000), followed by the costs associated with the death of a spouse ($31,000), lung disease ($29,000), and stroke ($25,000). Taken together, single and married retirees will spend up to 14 percent of their total wealth on these unpredictable expenses.

One reader, Geoffrey Hewitt, lamented the fact that Americans spend more per capita for healthcare than any other country and that medical bills frequently play a role in U.S. bankruptcy filings.

Dr. Edward Hoffer commented that the steep cost of nursing homes “reminds us that, despite what many believe, Medicare does NOT cover long-term care.”

“If one or both spouses end up in a nursing home, the options are long-term care insurance, self-pay for the well-off, or spending down one’s assets and then becoming eligible for Medicaid,” he said. Dr. Hoffer is right: Medicaid pays for six out of 10 nursing home patients.

The financial aspects of health care in retirement boil down to this: it’s scary.

Read more blog posts in our ongoing coverage of COVID-19.

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

2 Responses to Readers Lament Decline in Boomer Health

  1. I’m turning 65 this year; 11 years post prostate cancer. I get that people have unexpected illnesses. Life happens. What I don’t understand is how others choose to live eating crappy food, snacking into oblivion, getting no significant exercise and then complaining about all of their medical ailments and sticking Medicare with the costs of their poor decisions. Yes, it does take some effort to stay in good shape, but those habits started for me when I was in my early 30 ‘s. No smoking, no drinking, no meat in our diets, regular and vigorous exercise, seat belt wearing- all of these are behaviors of individual responsibility that seem to be lost today. I’d rather live a shorter life in good health, than live a longer life crippled by weight, arthritis, COPD, diabetes and spend my later years going to MD appointments and popping thousands of dollars a year of prescription drugs. Those behaviors are shameful but, we all get to pay for it!

  2. PJ says:

    This a wake up call, similar to the announcement from my LTC policy provider that my premium was being raised. Besides that it was requesting from the Iowa Insurance division to have a 30% raise in addition to the current increase.
    Trying to care for oneself, as the previous comment notes, takes effort, but is well worth the feeling of doing something concrete to help. Having the huge price increases for those who are taking steps to manage their futures as best they can, is discouraging.
    But we all keep plodding along, walking, mowing, keeping connected.