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After decades of denial, pandemic is making Minnesota baby boomers feel their age

By Kevyn Burger Special to the Star Tribune

Baby boomers, the generation that refuses to age, might have met their match in the coronavirus.

Marilyn and Juan Galloway exchanged a look that many married-with-children couples might recognize.

Their 22-year-old daughter had just dropped an unintentional bombshell, one that left them equal parts amused and wounded.

“She said, ‘If you guys get COVID, you’ve lived your lives,’ ” said Marilyn, of White Bear Lake. “She was dead serious, like, ‘You’re elderly and at the end of the road.’ We were stunned. We’re 55 and 63. We run, golf and bike. We’re more active than our kids. At the age that my grandmother wore a housecoat, I spiked my hair and dyed it purple.”

For baby boomers, it seems that COVID-19 has done what self-denial and evidence to the contrary has been unable to do: make them feel old.

For the generation whose youthful battle cry was “Don’t trust anyone over 30” and who prided themselves on remaining relevant as the years accumulated, being lumped in with the cohort regarded as frail and vulnerable has come as a shock.

“The pandemic has been a reckoning for baby boomers,” said Scott Zimmer, a speaker and trainer for Bridgeworks, a Wayzata consulting company that advises businesses on generational dynamics.

Based on sheer size, the 76 million American boomers, now between ages 56 and 74, have been courted by marketers since their postwar arrival. They have reframed every life stage they’ve passed through and were in the process of rewriting the script for their retirement years when the coronavirus arrived and stripped away their pretensions.

“They retain a youthful spirit and don’t want to slow down like previous generations. They take on encore careers and find new activities to be passionate about,” Zimmer said. “Now they’re forced to acknowledge that they’re not invincible. Even if they’re in great shape, they can’t deny that their age puts them in greater danger if they catch the virus.”

Dings and Dents

Writer Bill Souder’s upcoming biography of novelist John Steinbeck is titled “Mad at the World.”

That could also describe the 70-year-old author’s feeling about the way his age group is characterized.

“ ‘Seniors.’ ‘Elderly.’ I don’t like those terms. ‘Your sunset years.’ The labels they attach feel like they are trying to erase you. The message is that when you get older than a certain age, you’re in this other category. You are diminished, a fossil,” he said. “I don’t belong in that club.”

Souder has preferred to define himself by his activities rather than his age.

“I ride my bike, I still wade a trout stream. Last year I got a new hunting dog to trudge through the forest and fields with me. I do the same things I did when I was 40, but a little slower,” he said. “I’m like a golf ball. I’ve got dings and dents, a little asthma, a little heart disease.”

Since the arrival of the virus, Souder’s pre-existing conditions, previously regarded as minor and manageable, have prompted him to act with caution. He’s isolating in his home in Washington County in the company of his wife, their adult son who’s quarantining at home following a furlough and Sasha the wire-haired pointing griffon.

“At a certain age you are at an elevated risk and you have to live your life differently,” he admitted. “The science is clear. I can’t spin it.”

Ageism at the Root

For many boomers, the pandemic is revealing, even cementing, some long-held negative stereotypes associated with aging.

“They are experiencing ageism with the assumption that a number — their age — is the defining marker,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, a national association of nonprofit providers of aging services. “They may have experienced ageism in the workplace, but not in their day-to-day lives. They’re seeing how the contributions of older adults are undervalued and underappreciated.”

Age is just a number, but how that number is perceived is subjective. As people get older, the definition of “old” changes. In a Pew Research Center study, only 21% of those between the ages of 65 and 74 said they felt old, and just 35% of those 75 and older self-identified that way.

Advances in medical science in the past half-century have created a longevity revolution that is giving Americans not only longer life spans, but more years of good health. Still, anyone north of 55 is often lumped into the same age category.

Lori Bitter believes that happens out of “ignorance or laziness.”

The president of the Business of Aging, a California consultancy that advises companies marketing to mature consumers, Bitter thinks the older demographic needs to be sliced thinner.

“There’s not enough understanding that 65 and 85 are vastly different, just as people who are 50 and those who are 65 are nowhere in the same territory. Some of the language used for this vast, diverse group is ridiculous,” she said.

“Companies and others trying to speak to the different ends of the cohort need to distinguish between them,” she said.

It’s a fine point that the pandemic does not take into account.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “the greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older,” the CDC also generalizes with the statement that “As you get older, your risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases.”

That means that in the foreseeable future, taking the threat of the virus into consideration may cause baby boomers to live more constricted lives.

“We really don’t want to get it, so we are being conservative,” said Souder. “We don’t touch our kids. We sit in the backyard. All bets are off on when that will change. But I’m not bedridden, I don’t have one foot in the grave. I’m here and a high-mileage version of myself.”

Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.

This article is originally featured in StarTribune.

Making Your Mental Health a Priority After the Loss of Your Spouse

Our thanks to Elmer George, Elderville.org,  for this contribution to our blog: 

A few months ago, my husband’s mom passed away. She had cancer and spent her final days in hospice. I must admit watching my father-in-law deal with the loss has been truly eye-opening. My mother-in-law not only did most of their cooking and cleaning, but managed their finances as well. We’ve been helping my father-in-law work through his grief, while also helping him learn to live on his own. I’ve shown him how to cook some easy recipes, my husband has taken over his finances, and we’ve tried to get additional help here and there to fill in the gaps. I’ve learned a lot about what I need to be doing to help my own parents as they age, and I’d love to share my experiences with others.

The loss of a spouse is a devastating life event. For seniors, many who have been with their partners for decades and decades, it can be an enormous blow to their mental health. Not only do you face crippling sadness, loneliness, and depression, but you have to cope while also handling final arrangements, dealing with life insurance policies and the will, and doing what you can to avoid clashing with family. That’s why it’s vital that you make your mental well-being your #1 priority during this trying time.

Don’t try to speed up your grief

“Numerous research studies have demonstrated spousal bereavement is a major source of life stress that often leaves people vulnerable to later problems, including depression, chronic stress, and reduced life expectancy,” notes Psychology Today.

It is counterproductive to try to convince yourself to get over your grief, or to listen to people who tell you that there should be a time limit on your mourning. While prolonged depression stemming from the loss of a spouse can lead to health problems, attempting to suppress grief can also be incredibly detrimental. Know that you are allowed to feel sad, and never try to speed up your grieving process.

One of the best ways to begin the grieving process is to have a service for your spouse. Whether the service is a funeral or for cremation, this is an important first step. A service honors your spouse, brings family together, begins the healing process, and may bring loved ones the closure they need.

Avoid short-term fixes that can become bad habits

You might think that it’s okay to develop a few bad habits because you’re just getting through the hard times and these new habits aren’t part of your normal lifestyle, just part of the grieving process. But relying on alcohol, smoking, drugs, or overeating to help you cope with your emotional pain is even more dangerous for seniors than for younger people. Alcohol, for example, exacerbates mental health problems like anxiety and depression and is a leading cause of heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Not only that, but seniors tend to already be on more medications, which can have negative interactions with other substances.

Focus on eating right and exercising

The best thing you can do for your brain is to eat right and exercise. Getting enough physical activity helps our brain produce chemicals that improve our mood. What we put in our bodies is our fuel, and if you feed yourself subpar fuel, you’re going to have poor performance. If you want to help your brain battle depression and anxiety, stick to a healthy diet and be sure to get at least 30-45 minutes of moderate activity per day.

“Research in humans shows that exercise can stimulate the brain’s ability to maintain old network connections and make new ones vital to healthy cognition,” says the National Institutes of Health.

Force yourself to be social

When dealing with the loss of a spouse, many seniors tend to self-isolate. But this is one of the worst things you can do for your mental health. Talking with family and friends is one of the best ways to overcome excessive grief. “The most compassionate self-action you can take is to find a support system of caring friends and relatives who will provide the understanding you need,” says Oprah.com. Another way to talk to people about your grief is to join a grief group or seek counseling. These options may be available either locally or online.

There is no magic bullet for dealing with the devastating grief that comes with losing a spouse. But if you make a point to focus on your own mental health, you’ll be much more likely to succeed.

About Elderville.org:

Elderville.org is a resource guide for everything related to seniors. We connect our readers to reliable sources on the internet so they don’t have to spend time searching. We have safety tips for daily activities, and resources that range from healthcare to volunteering.

Article & quick links provided by ElderVille: https://elderville.org/

Find your helpful quick links here for Seniors:

Can I Get a Mortgage if I’m Retired?
https://www.creditsesame.com/blog/mortgage/can-i-get-a-mortgage-if-i-m-retired/

A Guide to Downsizing for Seniors and Their Loved Ones
https://www.redfin.com/blog/seniors-guide-to-downsizing

Should You Own or Rent a Home in Retirement?
https://www.fool.com/mortgages/2017/05/04/should-you-own-or-rent-a-home-in-retirement.aspx

Home Modifications Increase Senior Safety
https://www.angieslist.com/articles/home-modifications-increase-senior-safety.htm

How to Save for a Down Payment on a House
https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-save-for-a-down-payment-on-a-house-1289847

7 Home Improvement & Remodeling Ideas That Increase Home Value (And What To Avoid)
https://www.moneycrashers.com/7-home-improvements-to-increase-its-value/

Home Construction & Design Techniques for Child Safety
https://www.homeadvisor.com/r/child-safety-home-design-and-projects/

How to Deter Burglars: Keeping Potential Robbers Away From Your Home
https://www.asecurelife.com/how-to-deter-burglars/

The Business of Aging reports on how older adults are “Hacking Longevity”

Hacking Longevity is the first study to examine how three generations of adults over the age of 50 – Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Silent Generation – are thinking about and planning for longer lives. Until now, the idea of increased longevity has been mostly conceptual and aspirational. Through a rigorous research process, Hacking Longevity examination, provides insights on how brands and organizations can better serve consumers of the longevity economy. The study was conducted in the Fall of 2017 and Winter of 2018 and led by Lori Bitter at The Business of Aging.

The study debuted at AARP’s Living 100 event in Washington DC in April. This timeline illustrates key inflection points in people’s lives as they age, as revealed in the data. To learn more about Hacking Longevity, join us in June at The Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit where we will provide a briefing for attendees.

Hacking Longevity was conducted in partnership with Collaborata, and underwritten by AARP, Wells Fargo Advisors, GreatCall, and Proctor and Gamble Ventures.

13th ANNUAL WHAT’S NEXT BOOMER SUMMIT COMES TO THE NATION’S CAPITAL , MARCH 23, 2016

boomerlogo
Nation’s Leading Conference Brings Together Boomer Marketing Experts and Industry Leaders to Focus on “Seizing the Opportunity of the Longevity Economy”

Washington, D.C. plays host to the 2016 What’s Next Boomer Business Summit, the nation’s leading annual conference for the boomer and senior markets. Taking place on Wednesday, March 23rd at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, the upcoming summit shines a spotlight on “Seizing the Opportunity of the Longevity Economy” and includes a prestigious lineup of speakers, sessions, and exhibitors. Learn More →

Speaking in New York at The Senior Planet Exploration Center


Join me at OATS Senior Planet Exploration Center for the first talk in The Macquarie Speaker Series, titled “Online Communities for Older Adults: Lessons from the Eons Experience”on October 2nd, from 3-4 pm. The Senior Planet Exploration Center is located at 127 West 25th Street.

Based on the lessons learned from running the Eons site and working with clients to build community, I will share our insights on older adults and the nature of community. The talk with be live-streamed on SeniorPlanet.org. Learn more here.

Leveraging Social Media & Internet Marketing at LeadingAge Annual Meeting, Oct. 16-19, Washington, D.C.

I’m looking forward to seeing you all at LeadingAge annual meeting this month in Washington, D.C. As you prepare your schedules, consider joining me by registering for my session – an Twitter-enabled interactive one for all attendees this year! Here are the details:

Leveraging Social Media and Internet Marketing (159-G)

October 19, 2011
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Track: Marketing, Philanthropy & Public Relations
Speaker: Lori Bitter

  • Discover ways you can maximize the use of social media and internet marketing tools to reach your consumers.
  • Learn to incorporate these tools into your traditional marketing plan to strike the right marketing mix.
  • Realize how to measure the effectiveness of different marketing tools and their return on investment.

Thank you for a great first season of The Business of Aging radio program – See you in September!

We have just completed our first block of episodes for The Business of Aging on WGRN (WeEarth Global Radio Network) and I wanted to say “Thank you” to all my guests, the team: Allan, Kat, Nick and Judy, and my Continuum Crew team. These last couple of months have enabled me to get back to my radio roots (so much fun!) and have some of the most insightful and inspiring conversations around the implications to businesses of an aging population.

Learn More →

Download GrandCare System’s Aging & Technology Webinar: Paid Search & Search Engine Optimization 101

Yesterday our Media Director Ashley Mercier delivered an introduction to Paid Search & SEO during GrandCare System’s bi-weekly webinar series. The audio & video of this webinar is available here.

We received many great questions, more than time allowed, so we will be posting answers here in an upcoming blog post. Feel free to post any more in the comments section below so that we can include those as well.

Thank you to all the participants for the great conversation, and to the entire GrandCare Systems team for inviting us to speak on this topic.

The Business of…Boomer Social Networking

The fourth show The Business of … Boomer Social Networking looks at the opportunities in reaching boomers and seniors as they engage online through social networking.

My guests this week are Ashley Mercier, Group Publisher for Eons.com, an online social network for baby boomers,  and Ri Regina, Director of the Eons Community. We also speak to Mary Furlong, founder of Mary Furlong & Associates, author of Turning Silver into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace, and producer of The What’s Next Boomer Business Summit. She is a leading authority on the baby boom generation. Mary is the Dean’s Executive Professor of Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. Mary gives us an update on the outcomes and findings from the first of the two annual conferences she produces –  The What’s Next Boomer Business Summit which was held in San Francisco last week, as well as a lead on next month’s Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit and business plan competition in June at Santa Clara University.


Ashley Mercier
Group Publisher
Eons

Ri Regina
Director
Eons Community

Mary Furlong
President
Mary Furlong & Associates

The Business of Aging with Lori Bitter
May 10, 2011 – Episode 4: The Business of…Boomer Social Networking

Guests: Ashley Mercier, Group Publisher, Crew Media
            Ri Regina, Director, Eons Community
            Mary Furlong, President, Mary Furlong & Associates[audio:boa4.mp3|titles=The Business of Aging – Episode 4]
mp3 download

What’s Next Boomer Business Summit – April 29 in San Francisco

This annual event has been going eight years strong. It fosters a cutting-edge community explores and shares products and services that will serve the needs and wants of the 50+ market.

It is where the country’s leading Baby Boomer strategists, business leaders, executive marketers and research experts gather to introduce new research, products and services that truly represent what is next on the horizon for businesses selling to Baby Boomer and senior customers today. The gathered expert speakers and panelists will answer how to reach and successfully market to today’s Baby Boomer and senior consumer.

If you are a brand manager, corporate strategist, entrepreneur or a non-profit executive responsible for growing boomer business, this Summit is for you.

The event theme for 2011 is Dynamics, Deals, Differentiation and Disruption

  • GAIN insight into the latest 50+ research, go-to-market strategies, and success stories
  • LEARN methods to creating line Baby Boomer communities
  • CONNECT with thought leaders, brand managers and entrepreneurs who are shaping the 50+ market
  • DISCOVER new distribution channels
  • INTERACT with leading analysts, bloggers, authors, and age beat reporters during Lunch with the Experts
  • NETWORK with decision makers who get deals done
  • FIND out how the changing economy will influence decisions about real estate, lifestyle and the financial future of the 50+ population

Date: Friday April 29, 2011 – 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Location: Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, 55 Cyril Magnin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Register by February 24 to receive the early bird rate!

Check out speakers, agenda and more information: www.boomersummit.com

Connect with What’s Next Boomer Business Summit


Hashtag: #wnbbs2011

Produced by Mary Furlong & Associates, the What’s Next Boomer Business Summit is an official post-conference of the American Society on Aging (ASA) Aging in America Conference on April 26-30, 2011 in San Francisco.