What does the future hold for the avalanche of baby boomers careening toward old age? The cognitively intact may find it downright rosy. But the majority will probably have a chronic condition or two. Researchers seem to be divided over which way trends are headed.
There’s no evidence yet that it’s a worldwide phenomenon, but England and Wales have seen dementia rates decrease over the last two decades. It turns out healthier, better educated people stay sharp longer. But it’s too soon for Americans to breathe a sigh of relief. Definitive research hasn’t been done here yet. And while boomers are better educated than their parents, the U.S. is still the second fattest country in the western hemisphere. Not an enviable position considering the myriad health risks of obesity.
Obesity factors into heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, and they’re all on the rise. So even if dementia rates level off temporarily, it could be the calm before the storm. Eight out of ten nursing home residents today suffer from at least one chronic condition, and that’s not counting all the other aches and pains associated with aging. Grandma often wishes old age on me so I “see how it feels.” If my 88 is anything like hers, I assure her I want no part of it.
So how does all of this affect me, Al Franken? Realizing healthier living today helps your brain later on is both empowering and terrifying. I thought I was pretty healthy when I saw the doctor last fall for some weird ankle swelling. It turns out I have a host of problems I wasn’t even aware of. I’m taking meds now and fighting the obesity factor, but will that be enough to keep me wise as I grow old?
What do you think? Are the odds for dodging dementia improving? Or is poor health the price we’ll pay for modern medicine granting us a few more pharmaceutical-fueled years? I’d like to believe in the former, but I’m holding my kids to their word that if I go too far downhill they’ll take me for a nice walk on a river bluff and push me in. Just in case.
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