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How well are boomers handling their own aging?

They could be doing better, says gerontologist who will speak May 14 in Portland


by: PHOTO: MERRY MACKINNON - According to Gerontologist Lisa Hollis-Sawyer, almost a half century after participating in the civil rights and womens movement, baby boomers are surprisingly less vocal about preserving government programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, that protect an aging population.

Now that the oldest baby boomers are in their 60s, the question for many gerontologists is how will the generation that, as counterculture youth, distrusted older people, accept its own aging.

“Psychologically, we are not embracing our aging as well as we should,” said Lisa Hollis-Sawyer, professor of gerontology at Chicago's Northeastern Illinois University and co-author of an anthology titled “Intersections of Aging.”

At 50 years old, Hollis-Sawyer is one of the younger boomers. And she admits that her generation is very diverse, and therefore difficult to pin down. But she has identifed some revealing trends, including noting that baby boomer men are opting for cosmetic surgery at a higher rate than ever before.

“It disturbs me to see aging regarded as a disease to fight. We have to change our perspective,” she said.

And she cites some curious contradictions about boomers, such as the way many vigorously supported the civil rights and women's movement, but, almost a half century later, are surprisingly less vocal about preserving government programs that protect an aging population.

“For example, we've been ignoring Social Security,” Hollis-Sawyer said. “We haven't ensured that the system will survive.”

In May, Hollis-Sawyer will be at Portland State University to give a lecture on successful aging and demographic changes associated with the aging of the boomer generation. Finances and health rank at the top of her list for successful aging. But, unfortunately, finances could be problematic for many boomers, she added.

“Baby boomers didn't save for retirement as much as they should have,” she said. “And they're faced with a lot of stressors.”

One such stressor revolves around boomers potentially providing quadruple caregiving — for their grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren. “There is a very complex, multi-layered situation of more and more caregiving across generations within a household,” she said.

Because many boomers will be forced to work beyond age 65, the overall success or downfall of aging boomers could rest with the attitude of employers. An aging workforce should be valued, Hollis-Sawyer said. And, if boomers are pushed out of the workforce by employers, it will not only affect boomers' financial well being, but create a brain drain for the economy.

“It's ridiculous to say an aging person can't learn new things,” she said. “We need to shift our culture and see the aged as a natural resource.”

If you go

Dr. Lisa Hollis-Sawyer will give a lecture titled “Successful Aging Within Changing Environments: Older Adults as One of Our Greatest Natural Resources.”

When: Wednesday, May 14, 7 p.m.

Where: Portland State University, Smith Memorial Student Union, Room 236, 1825 S.W. Broadway, Portland.

Presented by: the Columbia Group of the Sierra Club as part of its Adam Alabarca Sustainability Speaker Series.

Admission: Free.

Info: 503-360-8549, website adamalabarcaspeakerseries.wordpress.com