In the midst of the federal debt ceiling crisis and arguments over where and how to reduce federal spending, discussions about the elderly - specifically Social Security and Medicare - keep coming on and off the table. In the end, they appear to be off, at least temporarily. But it's no secret that aging Baby Boomers, 78.2 million of whom commenced their coronations as Medicare beneficiaries in 2011, will fuel the ever-spiraling healthcare tab if the healthcare delivery system and entitlement criteria don't change drastically.....and "personal health wealth" doesn't increase. Healthcare costs are advancing at a annual rate more than triple the current yearly inflation rate. Already the Census Bureau expects 57.8 million Americans between the ages of 66 and 84 to still be living by 2030. People are living longer with multiple chronic diseases and conditions because advances in medications and medical device technology have allowed chronic illness to displace infectious diseases and accidents as the primary cause of death. Yet, while 64 percent of Americans polled by Pew Research Center rejected higher Medicare premiums and 58 percent opposed gradual increases in Social Security's retirement age, an even higher percentage (70%) expressed grave concern about the country's deficit.
In addition to making healthcare more efficient, more effective, and safer for everyone, we also need to restructure the premise on which both Social Security and Medicare were established and recognize the shifting demographics of the country. Washington Post opinion writer Walter Samuelson (July 28, 2011) flatly states the problem is simply the elderly and we need to bar those who currently have access to such entitlements but don't need or deserve the money so other national priorities can be funded more fully. Samuelson points out the federal government supports, on average, each American 65 and over by providing about $26,000 a year (approximately $14,000 through Social Security checks and $12,000 through Medicare payments), arguing that with the population's longevity these programs should begin later in life and not at all for some whose assets and income can sustain them adequately. To support his argument, he draws on The Kaiser Family Foundation reports revealing 25 percent of Medicare beneficiaries in 2010 had savings and retirement accounts averaging $207,000 or more and an equal percentage had individual incomes exceeding $47,000.
I'm not a personal financial planner, but it is apparent that Americans are going to have to start living differently and prepare to be more self-reliant as they grow older. This includes not only financial independence but also nuturing "personal health wealth." It's going to require improved health literacy and an active engagement in one's own wellness plan and self-care.
There's no single organ more affected by the aging process, after skin itself, than the bladder. It loses its elasticity and doesn't contract as fully and therefore fails to fully empty. Its nerve signals and pathways to the brain are more likely to stutter, skip, and trigger spasms. It is likely to leak under pounds of pressure from excess girth. It loses support from its pelvic floor muscles as they weaken following childbirth. After age 30 or so, we lose muscle mass as we age regardless of our history, especially if we are not exercising and maintaining a high-protein diet rich in the amino acid leucine. As if that isn't enough to worry about, there is the likelihood of living later years with a neurological disease such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, or damage due to stroke, which contributes to symptoms of urinary urgency and frequency. There are also COPD, DHR, and arthritis to combat, in which case the bladder remains functional but shortness of breath plus impaired mobility causes an accident en route to the toilet.
Yes, get with your financial consultant, but keep your priority on getting prepared to look after yourself............and keep your bladder healthy. Personal health wealth should be your endpoint.
Nancy Muller, PhD
Published On: August 01, 2011