The topic in our Social Gerontology class this week is retirement. There are many aspects to this 20th century phenomenon from a social gerontology viewpoint. One of the issues generating the most interest in the discussion was how one knows when to retire. Is it a question only of money. The decision is based on the four Ds – difficulties on the job, disability, desire, and denarii (money). Many older workers are under overt or subtle pressures to retire, to make way for the younger worker (who, coincidentally, is usually not paid as well). Discouragement and discrimination can make retirement look good. Disability begins to affect more people after age 55 when the rigors of a lifetime of work, sometimes heavy work indeed, begins to affect the body. An achy, breaky body can sure encourage retirement. Desire is the pull of activities away from the workforce. Older persons with strong hobbies, avocations or even new vocations that they want to pursue have stronger pull incentives to retire. Finally, the adequacy of their denarii (an old Roman term for money) will often end up being the deciding factor. Yet, not everyone feels fully prepared to have enough funds to last them for at least 20 years after retirement (about the life expectancy of a person at age 65 in the US today). Sometimes the first two reasons can force the issue before there’s adequate savings. Good thing Social Security provides the safety net it does.
I’m looking forward to next Monday’s show on PBS. Retirement Revolution – “Hazards and Vicissitudes”. Paula Zahn hosts this show on March 31, 10-11 p.m and I’m hoping it shows the diverse face of retirement in America today.

New Report on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Baby Boomers

On Tuesday the Alzheimer’s Association released a report on the future impact of Alzheimer’s Disease on US health care. (See below.) Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common disorder causing dementia in older people. Dementia, with its significant deterioration in cognitive capacity, including symptoms such as loss of memory, judgment, reasoning, attention and orientation and a general deterioration in the ability to function, imparts a tremendous burden on the individual and their family and friends who support them. Alzheimer’s disease is not preventable and, except in early stages, is untreatable. The typical victim lives 7-9 years after onset although some can live much longer.
Studies have produced varying estimates of the number of people with some form of dementia. This Alzheimer’s Association study suggests that 10 million baby boomers will develop the disease. We don’t have firm estimates of the number with the disease mostly because of problems defining dementia and different ways to conduct the studies.
Only a few drugs are available for treatment of persons in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease including donepezil, rivastigmine, galantamine and memantine. However, after a certain point in the progression of the disease, all lose their effectiveness.
The care is extensive for a person with Alzheimer’s disease and leads often to severe caregiver burden. It can impair the health of the caregiver. The phrase “the 36 hour day” (from the book of the same name by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins) best describes the overwhelming nature of the burden. In addition, the economic cost to the formal long-term care system is substantial but can be absolutely devastating for family financial resources.
This report is a great effort to continue to bring attention to a disease that has not received adequate support neither in terms of services and health care nor in research on how to control and ameliorate the effects of the disease.
For more information go to the key organization providing information on the disease — the Alzheimer’s Association: . The National Institute on Aging also has information about the disease and other dementias:
For an understanding of the disease start with this book: Mace, N.L. & Rabins, P.V. (1991). The 36-Hour Day. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1991. And I would encourage you to read
Alzheimer’s Association. (2008). The 2008 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Retrieved March 20, 2008 from
Political Issues to watch: One area to watch is the advocacy on the part of Alzheimer’s disease organizations and companies to encourage the Federal government to increase research dollars at the National Institutes of Health for this disease. However, given Federal budget limitations, Alzheimer’s disease is only one of a number of diseases calling for more resources. Another political issue connected to dementia and diseases such as Alzheimer’s is stem cell research. Expect continuing controversy with those who advocate for research to address incurable diseases aligned against those who oppose the use of stem cells.
For entrepreneurs in services related to this issue, there will be more demand for caregiver support services and products, better pharmaceuticals, and services to businesses to help them handle the effects of the demands of caregiving on their employees.