My 85-year-old mother-in-law, who lives in New Jersey, has a chronic problem that the docs think requires some tests. They put her in the hospital on Monday, and it's now Thursday. Inexplicably, the tests still haven't been done, but Medicare undoubtedly has been billed for four days. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law is waiting patiently and without fuss.
Soon such medical business-as-usual will be different, says Dr. Richard Allman, professor and director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham division of gerontology, geriatrics and palliative care. He says the baby boomer silver tsunami is about to hit the world of medicine, bringing with it typical boomer impatience with the system and unwillingness to put up with what is often today's medical norm -- take a number and wait.
"The boomers have always gotten what they want, when they want it and they aren't going to sit back now," he says.
Allman, who is also director of the Birmingham/Atlanta Veterans Administration Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center, or GRECC, says the VA started 10 years ago to figure out how to care for the 50 percent of veterans who are older than 65. It developed 20 regional geriatric research, education and clinical centers -- GRECCs -- to provide care more efficiently by using technology and teams of medical professionals to provide, among other things, more home-based care.
The 55-year-old Allman, who lost his own mother to Alzheimer's and who is currently helping his wife care for her ailing mother, says he believes that boomers who are planning for their own health care in retirement should consider these things:
- Embrace aging. As people age, they gather experience and wisdom. Give your business and your energy to places and people who will respect that.
- Look at exercise as a necessity. It's the fountain of youth. As we age, it is as important to exercise regularly as it is to eat and sleep.
- Keep your own medical records. More than 80 percent of Medicare recipients have at least one chronic illness; 20 percent have four or more. As you age, you'll be bounced around the medical system and medical providers you see won't have the time or inclination to talk to you or to read your file carefully; this can be very hazardous to your health. Be prepared at all times to provide a list of all the medicines you take, and insist that your care isn't managed in a vacuum.
- The more the merrier. Include your children, siblings, your friends and their friends, in your retirement planning. Tell your children about your finances and what your health care preferences are. Figure out ways that the young can help the old and the old can help the young as well as each other. "Remember, we're all in this together," Allman says.