It’s painful. My back hurts. My wife’s knees hurt. Everyone around us is talking about their health, their retirement plans, or their grandchildren. It sucks.
And it’s going to suck harder, because age has a way of dealing with all pride, and is a route toward a final end. My mom is 91. She has dementia. I call her at the home she’s staying at and sometimes she doesn’t know who I am. Such is life. No one gets out of it alive.
This is not just a personal moan, however. It’s a huge societal shift, and a major business opportunity. That’s because we Baby Boomers think we invented everything, and there are just so damned many of us. We’re the “pig in the python” – a giant cohort born of the ashes of WWII into a world of prosperity we first rejected, then turned to with a vengeance, and that we’re leaving for our kids and grandkids to clean up.
Life, for most of us boomers, has been pretty damned easy. I’ve made a handsome living as a journalist for nearly 40 years. I’ve never been beaten up, jailed, or shot at for what I’ve written. I’ve never even been sued (knock on wood). My wife has been handsomely paid for work she can do on the equivalent of a typewriter, from home.
But it’s going to get harder. For all of us. Illness, decrepitude and death are in our future. All our futures. If Baby Boomer Hillary Clinton is elected next year, she’ll take office at the same age Ronald Reagan was when he came to power. We have a sell-by date. The window on our activity is closing.
What are we going to do about it? As the front edge of the Baby Boom turns 70, then 71, then 72 and we all follow in our turns, what happens? Friends and spouses will die. Our ability to get around will become limited. We will badly need new friends, new reasons to live, and new living arrangements.
The offerings right now are slim. There are the “senior communities” built by Del Webb and others, little homes designed for a denial of death, no kids allowed. Makes me gag just to think about it. Much better, I think, to “age in place,” living in the home I’ve had since I was 28, close to entertainment, shopping, doctors and hospitals. Both of these are “short term” solutions.
Because beyond senior living is senior survival. Every couple consists of a partner who will die second. Right now that means you die alone. Every couple includes a partner who will sicken last, and who will need a partner, nursing visits, and eventually full-time nursing care on the way toward the inevitable.
You may think “A Place for Mom” is easy, but how about a place for you? Do you really want to go into a “senior living facility,” at prices that now start at $1,800/month? How about a full-fledged nursing home, which can cost you even more? Then there are the visits by nurses, and doctors, and ambulances, and hospitals. Who is going to feed you, clothe you, and do your laundry? Who’s going to replace your catheter when you need it? How are you going to shit, piss, and shower when the trip from here to there starts to look like a marathon?
Thus, the opportunity. My friend Martin Bayne calls it “Boomer Roomer.” I call it a cross between AirBnB and Match.com.
It starts with a community. Boomers aren’t going to forget how to use the Internet as we age. The Internet, in fact, is getting easier to use all the time, with new interfaces. So let’s start a community around the real problems of aging, a sort of “Aging Facebook” geared to boomers who have access to the resource and are ready to face the real problems of fading life.
Then, let’s build real connections within this community. Let’s be able to identify members who are physically near to us, who share our interests and outlook, who might become our friends. It’s true. Losing your old friends to death is just God’s way of saying you need to make new friends. So let’s build personal profiles within the site, which like those at LinkedIn will only be available to members, and let’s take advantage of these virtual connections to make real ones.
Now, let’s go further. Let’s be honest about our situations. At some point your wife or husband or partner dies, and a roommate to share my home and share my chores and share my bills would be welcome. Maybe you don’t have the money or energy to take care of your house, and would like to find a place to stay, one with someone or someones to talk with.
All this needs to be done under some form of control. We need social workers to make the matches work. We will want sponsorships from all those in the space who provide things we’re going to need, including that eventual nursing home. Aging is a ginormous market, and an honest community dedicated to meeting a growing need is going to draw advertisers (and charlatans) like flies.
See what I’m getting at? Buyers, sellers, social networking, and building a new type of senior living arrangement to replace the vendor-driven “communities” and “facilities” or parents were dumped into. We Boomers have always had “control” as our watchword. We demand control over everything. This is a last opportunity to take control and build something new, or to just slide along and let things happen to us that are worse than you can even imagine.
I know how bad it can be. Getting placed in the wrong place can be excruciating. When you lose power of attorney over yourself, when you’re stuck in a “house of death” with no community when you desperately want to cling to life, when you badly need someone to talk with who feels your pain but no one in this damned place speaks English. It’s hell. Disease is bad enough without that. Yet “that” is the reality for millions of our parents, uncles, aunts and friends, right now.
It’s coming for us. Unless we do something about it.
Will you help?