The Diagnosis: 'Boomeritis'

The national debate on healthcare may be part of most cocktail party conversations these days, but in our recent interactions with older Boomers, the national issue runs a distant second to a more personal topic -- me and my doctor(s).

At social gatherings we have been struck by the number of conversations between older Boomers about doctor visits, chronic conditions, recent procedures, physical therapy sessions and prescription drugs. At first we thought they were talking about providing care for elderly parents. But, no, the patient was in the room; in fact, he or she was in every conversation.

Boomers are coming face-to-face with the reality that, at age 50 and beyond, the warranty on the equipment is running out. Vision, hearing, knees, hips and other component parts need upgrades if not complete replacement. One-time blemishes and laugh lines now need professional attention and space-age lasers. Sagging sections from head to toe benefit from a nip here, a tuck there. On top of that, chronic conditions like high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and -- dare we say -- erectile dysfunction need on-going management. Better living through chemistry, indeed.

It's no surprise that doctor visits are at record levels, Botox procedures are in the millions, and self-care Web sites generate traffic that rivals search engines. Boomers are in prime time when it comes to their health. The sheer number of Boomers means the nation will set new records for the number of patients with high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis. Tell your kids to invest in Tylenol. We're going to need it.

As observers of Boomers, we've wondered why talking about our health is providing new fodder for social conversations. We gasp at younger generations and their willingness to reveal all on Facebook. We may not post our medical stories online, but we do tell anyone and everyone we know about them. Why do we share our personal attempts to restore vitality?

Then it hit us. Our personal health stories provide new ammunition in our life-long quest to establish our uniqueness. It's all about ME, and now, well, ME and MY DOCTOR.

This fascination, focus and willingness to share intimate details of our medical maladies seem to us to be the latest manifestation of the Boomer generational trait to be "self" centered -- a lifelong chronic condition we call "Boomeritis."

Today's older Boomers had three siblings (on average) in a home environment that typically made the children the focus, thanks to Dr. Benjamin Spock's 1946 opus Baby and Child Care. Children were seen and heard, and quite naturally, a "what's in this for me?" mentality took root.

This struggle to identify our uniqueness still drives our social behavior. Finding a way to stand apart is woven into our very fabric.

In the 1970s and '80s, when two Boomers met, the ice breakers revolved around jobs and careers. What we did for a living became the source of social conversations. Not "who are you?" but "what do you do?" Then came marriage and those baby carriages, and Boomers created new content for social interactions, and new ways to share their uniqueness, through talking about their kids. Each one unique, of course.

Now, at 50 and older, we're less interested in talking about our work or the exploits of our children to set ourselves apart, so we reveal and revel in stories about our medical adventures.

"Boomeritis" isn't fatal, but instructive: Find ways to make your marketing personal to Boomers. They don't respond to messages about "everyone" or "everybody" because each and every one of the 76 million Boomers sees themselves as unique and different.

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8 comments about "The Diagnosis: 'Boomeritis' ".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , January 25, 2010 at 12:26 p.m.

    If you eliminate family conversation, work related conversation and divorces, what's left on the common table?

  2. Barb Geldersma , January 25, 2010 at 12:36 p.m.

    Say it ain't so! Conversations about my prostate, my gimpy knee, my bowel movements!!! Sounds like visits to my Grandmother in the nursing home. My friends talk about planned trips, the latest fitness craze- Zumba and Pickleball anyone? Thank goodness!!!

  3. Arthur Koff from RetiredBrains.com , January 25, 2010 at 12:58 p.m.

    I absolutely love "at age 50 and beyond, the warranty on the equipment is running out." What a great way to express our aches and pains.

    Research shows that a couple reitire at 65 in 2010 (both Medicare eligible) will spend out of pocket an average of $270,000 during the combined remainder of their lifetimes.

    Few have saved this kind of money and thus many must continue to work in some capacity or they will not be able to enjoy the lifestyle they had planned for their later years.

    That is why the traffic to sites like RetiredBrains.com has continued to skyrocket.

  4. Sharna Fetman from Sharna Fetman Consulting , January 25, 2010 at 1:52 p.m.

    Interesting commentary. However, this is not new behavior. Listen to conversations down in Florida. It's not just the baby boomers.

  5. Dan Zukowski from GolinHarris Public Relations , January 25, 2010 at 3:57 p.m.

    I don't buy that it's about "ME." Rather, these conversations are about creating community: it is a way of sharing and identifying common problems, challenges, and maybe even solutions. It's a way of commiserating with our comrades. As the "equipment breaks down," we all face the inescapable impact of time. It helps to not face it alone.

  6. Jerry Foster from Energraphics , January 26, 2010 at 2:33 a.m.

    There is gold to be gleaned from this article in that individuals do think of themselves as unique and health is becoming more and more a topic - marketers and politicians need to take heed (for instance GOP support of big tobacco needs to be a distant memory and the rollback of asbestos laws needs to be reversed with asbestos totally banned).

    Prostate health will be more and more a topic, especially because the current practice of castrating men when some cancer cells are detected is barbaric and avoidable (that new Davinci laser surgery robot left a famous blogger impotent and the "just cut it out" mentality is certainly not the high-tech solution men need). Because of the huge probability of nerve damage that goes with it, losing one's prostate is far more serious than losing one's breasts; the latter can be rebuilt for $5000 while the former cannot be restored for all the money in the world (while the ability to sleep with a woman might be worth all the money in the world to a man).

    There is going to be a major outcry over pesticides coming up as more Boomers get cancer.

    But having said that...NO...I will not talk about my health problems with those in a younger generation because that can kill a career or romance (older males and cougars date a generation or two down showing that we Boomers have no intention of sticking together). Preventive measures are good conversational material but not discussion of current, chronic health issues.

  7. Patricia Friedlander from Word-Up! , January 26, 2010 at 11:55 a.m.

    Oh please! I'm 65, so I guess technically I'm not a boomer, but there is nothing more boring than listening to my contemporaries (and those younger, in the boomer demographic) talk about their medical conditions and problems. For the most part, I attribute this to people who bought into the whole retirement idea and now have absolutely nothing in their lives except their medical adventures. Boring, Boring! Get a life, workout, eat better food, leave the house, read books, stop playing the game aps on Facebook, interact with young people.

  8. Suzanne Lainson from SportsTrust , January 28, 2010 at 4:54 p.m.

    I'm a boomer. I've had men my age strike up conversations and soon after start talking about problems in their lives. I was around to help out my parents before they died, and I'm really not interested in plunging back into health issues any sooner than I have to do so. I'd like to think there is a longer break between being a part-time caretaker of aging parents and facing the idea that the people around me are now heading that direction.