Editor's Note

Fuel for the Boom

How well do you understand Baby Boomers' unique HME needs?

My age, in relation to my family, has put me in a good position to witness America’s macro trends in aging and healthcare on a micro basis. Reason being, I’m the baby of the family.

As circumstance would have it, my parents were of the Greatest Generation, born circa 1920, and my siblings were classic Baby Boomers, born right after the Second World War. Meanwhile, I brought up the rear as an early GenXer, being born in 1968. (When financial planners advise that you should always plan for the unexpected, consider me the thing your financial planner is warning you about.)

So, from my official position of “baby of the family,” I have seen the differences in how my parents lived their lives and took care of their health, versus my siblings. Those differences are pronounced, and in many respects I think that “generation gap” in healthcare will only widen.

Let’s start by looking at my parents. I consider them classic examples of their age cohort. Living through the Depression and a World War, my parents lived in that classic overlap of fostering healthy living habits while at the same time wanting to enjoy the finer things in life. A perfect example would be my dad enjoying his retirement by riding his five-speed Raleigh Sprite to the local pool to swim laps in the afternoon and returning to enjoy a cocktail and a steak for dinner. Now that’s what I call living!

Meanwhile, my brother very much exemplifies the healthy living achievements of his generation: in the 1970s he was eating healthy foods and was an early adopter of running, as personalities such as Olympic marathoner Frank Shorter and Jim Fixx ushered in America’s 1970s running boom. Now in his 60s, my brother has given his knees and back a break by replacing his running with cycling, as well as training at the gym. Likewise, his eating habits are best described as virtuous.

So what happened with my parents? They were able to live out the remainder of my father’s life in their condominium, and my mother moved into assisted living after my father passed away. As you can imagine, HME played a role in their life, with my father ultimately needing a hospital bed, and my mother using a walker and various bath safety items. Access to the right medical care and equipment, as well as the ability to live independently for nearly their entire lives helped them both live well into their 80s.

How will my siblings’ experience differ from my parents, and what might this say about what we can expect for Baby Boomers as whole? Taking the first part of that question, let’s look at my brother: I think he and my sister-in-law (who also leads an incredibly healthy lifestyle) will continue to live long, healthy, independent lives. Will that independent living in the home last longer than it did for my parents? That’s tough to say given how long my parents lived in their place.

But I do believe my brother and people in his generation will lead even more active lifestyles, and that smart HME business owners and operators will realize that trend will have an impact on their businesses. The definition of independent living is expanding to mean much more than living in the home. Independent living for Baby Boomers means running marathons, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and riding cycling sportifs. Providers will need to adjust their offerings to facilitate this. For instance, instead of offering a patient in her 70s a walker, you could just as easily need to supply her with an orthopedic knee brace so that she can stay competitive in her senior tennis league.

Moreover, we can be certain that technology will play an increasing role. Like anyone else, Baby Boomers are using various wearable health devices and heart rate monitors (HRMs) to fine-tune their fitness. Providers looking to get in front of Boomer healthcare must support those needs, as well as see how they can also tie wearable health into patient monitoring trends.

Now, where does this leave me? I’m not sure. On purely personal level, I try to do my best to eat well and engage in healthy pursuits. I do a ton of cycling, as well as standup paddleboarding, and my family and I do a lot of camping and hiking. When I’m out on the bike or the board, I’m tracking my performance via smartphone, GPS device, and an HRM. Moreover, I also try to be a good boy and monitor my nutrition using a smartphone app.

But at the end of the day, if I want to be honest with myself, I don’t always heed the better angels of my nature. Am I demonstrating perhaps a retrograde trend towards a less dogmatic approach to personal health for my generation? I don’t know, but I will admit that a steak and a cocktail does sound pretty good right about now.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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