I look forward to each new year, as it brings about both hope and change, as well as a sense of renewal and predictions of things to come. With newly enacted health-reform laws, the year certainly began with some interesting debates and a key milestone.
There’s no question that 2011 will go down as the year of the baby boomer. This year, the oldest of the baby boomers will come of age and turn 65, the year that traditionally signifies retirement age. The size and economic impact of this iconic generation is astounding. It’s hard to imagine that 79 million people are beginning to turn 65 every day for the next 19 years. Baby boomers control over 80% of personal financial assets and more than 50% of discretionary spending power. They are responsible for more than half of all consumer spending, buy 77% of all prescription drugs, 61% of OTC medication and 80% of all leisure travel.(1) Their sheer numbers will only increase. By 2030, there will be twice as many people over the age of 65 as there are now.(2) Great questions are looming however. Questions such as “Will Medicare be there for me when I need it?” “Who will help care for me when I can no longer care for myself?”
In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, and now that the hysteria that accompanied the health care reform debate has subsided, perhaps it’s time for an open discussion regarding the difficult end-of-life decisions that an increasing number of baby boomers and their aging parents face each year.
Many providers of hospice care, including Solari Hospice Care, praised the Medicare regulation that was to take effect January 1, 2011. The goal of the new regulation was to allow physicians, as part of a patient’s annual Medicare exam, to discuss end-of-life treatment, including advance directives. Unfortunately, just days after the new, end-of-life care plan took effect on January 1, it was disappointing to see the abrupt change of mind in Washington.
Conversations regarding end-of-life issues are difficult enough. The truth is nobody likes to talk about death or dying. However, the unfortunate reality is that more than 70 percent of the 2.3 million people who die in America each year face difficult decisions about end-of-life care. The best time to discuss end-of-life issues and wishes is with a clear head and before it’s really needed, ensuring that a person’s wishes are fulfilled even when they can no longer communicate them. It doesn’t need to be gloom and doom, but it does need to be pragmatic.
While we may not have predicted a change of mind regarding the end-of-life planning provision in Medicare legislation, this recent turn of events underscores the vital importance of Solari Hospice Care educating the Las Vegas and Houston communities in which it serves about the benefits of hospice care. While Medicare may not be facilitating advance care planning, there’s nothing stopping Solari Hospice Care from stepping to the plate and engaging its communities in conversations about options for end-of-life care.
According to the British Medical Journal (3), research has shown that advance care planning and patient-physician discussions result in a higher quality of life for patients and their family caregivers facing the end of a life. Although a delicate and difficult conversation, having end-of-life planning conversations with your family and loved ones before a crisis occurs can eliminate unwanted medical procedures, unnecessary pain and family strife.
Why are we so wimpy about having an end-of-life planning conversations then? A number of articles have reported that baby boomers are in a state of denial regarding their own aging and death and are leaving an undue economic burden on their children for their retirement and care. (4,5) No one is immune from the effects of aging, whether it’s in body or in mind. Not us or even our parents. I am encouraged though, to see a growing dialogue for boomers to manage aging and end-of-life issues as the generation ages.
In a recent report, health-care market research publisher Kalorama Information projects an 8 percent growth this year in the nearly $20 billion hospice market (6), hopefully enabling home care and hospice providers to push to the forefront of patient care in the coming years. Along with our inpatient home in Las Vegas, Solari Hospice Care is looking forward to the opening of its distinctive, free-standing inpatient home in Houston in the spring of 2011 to serve this growing need for compassionate and comforting care designed for each patient’s unique, individual needs. As always, I have no doubt that Solari Hospice Care’s exemplary interdisciplinary team of professionals will continue to be the benchmark for providing the best supportive and palliative care for people at the end of life.
(1) USA Today, Big-spending Boomers bend rules of marketing, November 16, 2010
(3) “The impact of advance care planning on end-of-life care in elderly patients,” British Medical Journal, December 2009
(4) “For aging boomers, denial is destiny,” by Richard Louv, SignOnSanDiego.com, June 2006
(5) “Boomer Generation Is in a State of Denial,” by Robert Samuelson, Realclearpolitics.com, January 2007
(6) “Long Term Care Market: Nursing Homes, Home Care, Hospice Care, and Assisted Living,” Kalorama Information, June 2010