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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.

Media Release: Entrepreneurs In $7 Trillion Longevity Market Learn Insights On Investors, Distribution And Marketing At What’s Next Longevity Business Summit

 

 

Entrepreneurs in $7 Trillion Longevity Market Learn Insights On

Investors, Distribution and Marketing at What’s Next Longevity Business Summit

Conference Keynoted by Expert in Aging, Ken Dychtwald;

Powerhouse Speakers from AARP, NIA, Ziegler Link·Age, Home Instead

 

ATLANTA, January 30, 2020 – The What’s Next Boomer Longevity Summit kicks off its 17th year as the premier curator of 300 thought leaders in aging – this year here in the ATL – to network and learn about the trends, innovations and opportunities addressing the consumerism and needs of adults age 50+.  The one-day conference will feature power-packed panels on the conference theme of “Mobility, Memory, Money and Marketing,” all focused on capitalizing on the $7.6 trillion longevity economy.

Executive produced by Mary Furlong & Associates (MFA), the What’s Next Boomer Business Summit is known for delivering an expert forecast for success in entrepreneurship. Attendees will learn from panelists such as investors Ziegler Link·Age, Nationwide Ventures and Portfolia on how to obtain funding; opportunities in deal-making with distribution partners such as Home Instead; customer insights and market research trends from top research agencies, innovative programs driving dementia care and brain health and more. This year’s keynote address, “The Next Wave: How Boomer Retirees Will Redefine Money, Consumerism, Family, Work, Housing, Mobility, Health and Success” will be delivered by one of the visionaries in aging, Ken Dychtwald, author and co-founder of AgeWave.

“I’m looking forward to sharing my latest ideas on which industries, products, and services will dominate the emerging longevity marketplace—many of which are hiding in plain sight,” said Dychtwald. “I’ll be covering everything from medical technologies on the horizon that have the potential to dramatically transform health and aging – to how aging Boomers’ time affluence will re-define the travel and leisure, housing, education, media, and financial services industries.”

In addition, author Maddy Dychtwald who is co-founder of AgeWave, will moderate an inspirational panel of business women discussing female economic influence and fiscal makeovers for 2020 and beyond.

Attendees learn trends and insights, but also valuable business coaching such as how to scale a business, leveraging senior housing and transportation deals, delivering for home as the new health hub, using emerging technology including VR, Voice First and AI to change consumer habits and enhance workforce development, understanding fintech and privacy issues, changes in  MedicareAdvantage reimbursement models, how to incorporate aging vitality and caregiver wellness into a business model, marketing success using content development and social media, designing with aging in mind and more.

What’s Next Longevity Business Summit Comes to the A to Focus on Longevity Economy Trends

“For 17 years we have been diving into markets in longevity and we see 2020 as an important milestone where women are at the epicenter of purchasing power globally as well as building innovative businesses to address an aging society,” said Mary Furlong, a successful entrepreneur and author in aging who has made the What’s Next conferences the must-attend events in the longevity economy. “Knowing what priorities investors have for funding, how to build distribution partner pipelines, building a business based on strong research and how to create and leverage innovations in marketing are the cornerstones of what our event delivers for attendees.”

What’s Next Longevity Business Summit is co-produced by Lori Bitter, founder of The Business of Aging, and Sherri Snelling, CEO of Caregiving Club and has been held concurrent with the American Society of Aging’s annual Aging in America conference for the last 17 years. This important partnership offers attendees both conferences: one a comprehensive look at aging, the other is the Summit’s select smaller learning and networking event of thought leaders in longevity. The Summit lead sponsors include: AARP Innovation Labs, Great Call, Ageless Innovation, CareLinx, VitalTech, Medterra CBD, Business of Aging, Susan Davis International, Caregiving Club, iN2L, Hamilton CapTel, Home Instead, myFamilyChannel, SilverRide, Outpatient, Noboscu Technology, Nationwide, Portfolia, Embodied Labs, Caremerge, Stay Smart Care and Thrive. See the event agenda and full list of speakers and sponsors at: boomersummit.com

Media Contact:

Phyllis Weiss – Weiss Communications, Inc.

weiss@weiss-communications.com

# # #

About Mary Furlong/Mary Furlong & Associates

Founded in 2003, Mary Furlong & Associates (MFA) is a strategy, business development and marketing company. A serial  entrepreneur, Mary founded SeniorNet.org, and ThirdAge Media (acquired by Ancestry.com), prior to MFA. For 17 years, Mary has produced the industry leading What’s Next Longevity Business Summit and Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit, adding the Washington Innovation Summit and What’s Next Canada in recent years. Author of Turning Silver into Gold, How to Profit in the Boomer Market and The MFA Longevity Market Report, Mary has been recognized by ASA, Fortune, Time and as one of the top 100 Women in Silicon Valley. She is an adviser to the Ziegler LinkAge Fund, CABHI and numerous start-up companies in addition to her private client practice.

About Lori Bitter/The Business of Aging

Lori K. Bitter provides strategic consulting, research and development for companies seeking to engage with mature consumers at her consultancy The Business of Aging. Her current research, Hacking Life Shifts, in collaboration with RTI research and Collaborate, was championed by AARP, and funded by Proctor & Gamble, Bank of America, Unilever and others. She is a 2017 Influencer in Aging, named by Next Avenue and author of The Grandparent Economy. She was president of J. Walter Thompson’s Boomer division, JWT BOOM, the nation’s leading mature market advertising and marketing company and led that firm’s annual Boomer marketing event for five years.

About Sherri Snelling/Caregiving Club

Sherri Snelling is a corporate gerontologist and founder/CEO of Caregiving Club, a strategic consulting and content creation firm focused on biopsychosocial aging, Alzheimer’s and caregiver wellness. Her innovative wellness programs include the Me Time MondayTM and 7 Ways to Caregiver Wellness workshops. She is the author of A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care, a contributing columnist and national speaker on caregiving and has done work for AARP, Keck Medicine of USC, UnitedHealthcare, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, LifeCare, QVC. She was chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is on an Alzheimer’s Association board.

Join me in Chicago at ASA’s Aging in America 2015 & What’s Next Boomer Summit

boomerlogo
I will be in Chicago from March 23rd through the 27th for a week-long conference with aging professionals from all over the world. I am delighted to be presenting a program on Grandparents and Intergenerational Trends for ASA’s Aging in America Conference. Christine Crosby, Founder of GRAND Magazine will be joining me on this program:

The Grandparent Economy: How Families Are Evolving in Unprecedented Times
Tuesday, March 24th 1-2 PM
For more information: http://www.asaging.org/aia Learn More →