10 Things to Know About Your Health
Born between 1946 and 1964, Americans numbering over 70 million today are living longer and stronger than their parents.
“Baby Boomers,” named for the rise in births following World War II and the prosperous years thereafter, have benefited from medical advances in preventative and clinical care. Here’s what they and their families should be aware of medically these days:
1. Check for the “stealth virus.”
Hepatitis C still haunts the last generation to go without effective screening for virus risks in blood transfusions and surgical (and dental) procedures. Boomers are five times more likely than any other age group to carry Hepatitis C, a virus that damages the liver long-term and could cause cancer as it goes undetected. A simple blood test finds it and a daily prescription pill for 2-3 months can end this threat.
2. Get the new shingles vaccine.
Boomers who came down with chicken pox in childhood (before most Americans were immunized against it) can harbor a virus that arises later in life to trigger shingles attacks, marked by red spots on skin and often lingering pain. A few weeks ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved a new standard of care for this affliction: Shingrix, a two-application series of shots providing 98 percent prevention in tests.
3. Don’t forget an annual flu shot.
Close to the 100th anniversary of the catastrophic world-wide influenza pandemic that killed more people than the Great War of its time, today’s baby boomers (first to be immunized against a wide array of germ and virus-borne diseases) should remember to get another inoculation against the evolving viral population causing common respiratory and inflammatory ills. Proven, life-extending medicines like flu shots are covered by health insurance — or are free at many local pharmacies.
4. Keep that waistline in check.
Boomers are most at risk of any age group in the U.S. of becoming obese, with all the consequent health problems. Among this cohort, over two-thirds of women and nearly three-quarters of men are already overweight or obese, with a 31 percent increase in obesity over the previous 20 years. Prone to obesity at an earlier age than previous generations, boomers better cut calories and boost their exercise level to maintain wellness.
5. Move it or lose it: off the couch.
A recently-published study in Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, found that boomer-age respondents followed over a decade were three times more likely to become unable to walk if they watched 5 hours or more of TV per day (and spent fewer than 3 hours a week in physical activity). Even moderate movement at brief intervals during commercials or while online can help maintain mobility, according to the study’s lead author.
Noted for greater longevity than their predecessors, baby boomers are nonetheless more likely to incur a physical disability as they age. One study found disability levels for the very oldest Americans actually declining, while boomers with problems from earlier in life had more difficulty carrying out daily tasks and personal care activities. Unexpected improvement: handicaps related to hearing loss declined among the rock ‘n’ roll generation (spared the din of industrial noise).
7. Trip out — medical tourism rules!
With baby boomers’ reputation for independence and adventurousness, it’s no wonder they’ve become seekers of top-notch health remedies abroad. The cost of medicine in the U.S. has driven the uninsured and underinsured to look to other countries’ facilities for expert care and cutting-edge procedures. Making the choice easier is accreditation to high standards set by the U.S.-based Joint Commission International.
8. Remember: memory pill yet unproven.
You’ve seen TV ads for that memory remedy based on “a protein originally found in jellyfish” (like jellyfish remember better than us?). Largely aimed at baby boomers, this supplement is not subject to as rigorous testing for effectiveness and safety as an FDA-approved drug. Recently, Prevagen’s makers prevailed in a lawsuit brought against them by the Federal Trade Commission for false claims; still their capsules beg further verification.
9. Drink, drugs making a comeback.
Baby boomers’ history of consuming licit and illicit remedies for physical and mental discomforts makes them likely to indulge in addictive behaviors now — around the world. A recent Australian study found high-risk alcohol consumption and prescription drug (and cannabis) use rising among Boomer-agers there. In England alcohol-related hospital admissions for those between 55 and 74 tripled over the last decade. In the U.S., Boomers account for the largest increase in opioid misuse.
10. Predictor of long, healthy life: friends.
Finally, an Australian study not too long ago concluded that close relationships with children and relatives made little difference in longevity, but having more friends (face-to-face, not on Facebook) increased how long those tracked (mostly boomers) lived for. Since then, a U.S. metastudy (a study of 148 other studies) following over 300,000 respondents found that “people with stronger social relationships had a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships.” Any questions?
Steve Ditlea is a freelancer who writes about health and health-related topics for lohud.com and the Journal News