By Sandy Cohen, B.A., R.N. and Roger Cormier, M.A., M.Th.

 Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) can look forward to a long and vibrant retirement. However, as the saying goes, “There are two ways to look at everything.” Boomers expect to live long without serious limitation on their activities. While it’s true their life expectancy is rosy, the prospects of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other disabling conditions associated with advanced age threaten the good life they foresee.

A survey by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago found that half of Boomers expect to make it past age 80 without serious decline in their lives. 79 percent feel they won’t suffer any serious limitations until after they reach 70. Such optimism has a basis in actuarial data. Male Boomers have median life expectancies into their eighties and female Boomers into their upper nineties. Many current retirees continue to live full, active lives with no declines in their upper decades. Undoubtedly that will be the case for a large percentage of Boomers.

But what about those who reach their seventies, eighties and nineties at great cost to their health and independence? Twenty percent of those who live through their 65-74 decade and half of those over 85 will suffer from Alzheimer’s. At best, current medicines only mitigate the debilitating and life-threatening effects of dementia, physical frailty, diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions.


 Many Boomers are experiencing the sad decline and suffering of advanced old age among their own relatives and other people they know. They see the cost of long-term care wiping out the limited savings of people they know in just a few years. No fate is more universally dreaded than outliving one’s peers and being forced to live in an understaffed nursing home on government assistance.

Boomers can increase the likelihood that their resources and health will support a vibrant, meaningful old age. For example, they can systematically save for retirement, work part-time during retirement, and build healthy exercise, nutrition and social involvement into their pre-retirement and retirement years. But then there is the luck of the draw. For example, Boomers can engage in certain health practices that are associated with lower incidences of Alzheimer’s, but they can’t control their age, heredity, genes and gender, which are associated with the dreaded disease.

Boomers and others who anticipate a vibrant retirement and a long life are well served by role models among the current elderly retirees. These are the people who saved as much as possible, who continue to look after their health, who remain connected to family and friends, who gratefully enjoy new as well as lifelong activities during each year that is given to them, and who accept and cope with declines in their health as best they can.

Most Boomers, as well as people in other age groups, hope they will live long, healthy, happy lives and die suddenly or after only a short illness. However, people increasingly are declining over a substantial period of time before their final demise. Just as our younger years are filled with opportunity, fulfillment, risk and suffering, our older years present new, enriching experiences and difficult losses. Whatever their individual futures hold, Boomers are the first generation who know they can live for a century. As they say, that can be a mixed blessing.