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Originally published Monday, June 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Aging Deliberately

Planning for senior years needs to happen now

Dear readers, This is my last column for The Seattle Times. For this column, I want to plant some seeds about our collective and individual...

Special to The Seattle Times

Dear readers,

This is my last column for The Seattle Times.

For this column, I want to plant some seeds about our collective and individual futures. Most of us can expect to live a very long time, and we will join millions of others who are even older, yet our country is woefully unprepared. A demographic imperative that we can't ignore — nearly 80 million boomers living into their 80s, 90s and 100s over the next 60 years (compared with the current older generation of 35 million) — will become the largest, oldest generation in American history.

Unless there's a cure soon, a significant number will have dementia. So much will change from what we know today, even I have difficulty imagining it. Yet few — especially policy makers and politicians — are paying attention.

It reminds me of how crowded our schools were when I was growing up in the 1950s. The hospitals were filled to overflowing because of the boomers' births — some of our moms actually delivered in the halls because there were no available rooms. Yet, when it came time for the boomers to go to school, the schools were taken by surprise. I attended a different school every year from the third to the 10th grade — although I lived in the same house — as my school district played construction catch-up. Back then, thankfully, the public was willing to pay more in taxes for us. We were cute, after all, and we lived in a nation that supported its children.

For later boomers, as their numbers climbed, it got worse — my brothers went to school half-days. Classes were huge. Remember the portable schoolrooms that could be trucked in? Couldn't anyone have foreseen this and been ready?

Later, the same thing happened as we applied for college, for jobs and to buy houses — fierce competition in a limited universe. The early boomers tended to fare much better than the later ones because we had already filled the slots. Then something else happened: We became more demanding, more interested in living not the ascetic life of our parents (who'd survived the Depression) but of spoiling ourselves as much as we could. We didn't save our money like our parents did, even when we had incomes and assets many times larger. That's going to haunt many of us for the rest of our lives.

History is about to repeat itself, but at the other end of the age spectrum. This time, I see no sign that the taxpayers will think we're cute and provide the equivalent of more schools (heck, they'll be us, and we won't have the money). I especially fear how future generations — your great-grandkids — will fare with the fierce competition for tax dollars (something AARP never mentions when it urges us to demand more free services).

Medicare is already an endangered species, with many doctors refusing to take new Medicare patients. There's a huge shortage of health-care professionals who specialize in older-adult care. Pensions are disappearing. An outright overhaul is needed in how eldercare services are provided. Government is beset with deficits that have no end, and there won't be a magic bullet to save us.

I can get really nervous thinking about all this. But I also firmly believe that, by preparing for this future and thinking about our choices, we can have more control over what happens. Some parts of this scenario are already in play — we can't change them. Others are still within our ability to affect. But first we must wake up and recognize what's needed, and then do it — and drag our politicians and policy makers along.

Note: My column started 14 years ago, very quietly. It's now morphing into another form and will start to make thunder.

Thanks to the Internet, I will be launching a new generation of Aging Deliberately columns soon, available by e-mail as a paid subscription newsletter. It will have lots more room for information that you'll find practical and helpful (and workshops I'm putting on), as well as for other people's opinions and voices. E-mail allows me to keep the fee low without adding advertising (unless it goes through my screening). I have lots of exciting ideas of how it might develop. For more information on how to subscribe, see my Web site at www.agingdeliberately.com/">www.AgingDeliberately.com.

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This news will disappoint many of you who don't have computers, and I deeply regret that. However, it's just me in this new endeavor, and it's impossible to create a mailed newsletter without costing an arm, a leg and my life. Those of you without computers may not realize how much time, paper, postage, gas, envelopes and energy is saved communicating via e-mail. It's changed our world. Please join me if you're able.

Most of us age accidentally, without planning or forethought. Aging Deliberately tells us how to age on purpose.

You can reach Liz Taylor at lizt@agingdeliberately.com or write to P.O. Box 11601, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. Her Web site is www.agingdeliberately.com. More columns

at www.seattletimes.com/living.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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