(4 of 7)
As you read this sentence, another baby boomer is turning 50. In eight seconds, so will another, and then another, and on and on will this cascade of calendar-enforced maturity continue for the next decade and a half, an entire generation hitting the back nine and turning the world over to those who are younger, faster, fitter, more ambitious. (Even the most commonly used number--the 76 million born in the boom--is a gross underestimate: add 8 million immigrant boomers to the total.) For the present purposes, though, we're going to focus on the leading edge of the boom, those people born between 1946 and 1957 who made it to their teens before the '60s ended. We know self-indulgence better than our younger siblings do, so we're going to feel what's happening next that much more sharply. And, of course, sooner--like, tomorrow.
Evidence? We may claim to feel as if we're 40, but if you really want to know what we've got on our minds, wander the Web to gauge the current state of boomer consciousness. A recently launched site targeted at people over 50, GenerationA.com boasts of its large-size type fonts. Elsewhere, the author of a regular boomer column begins, "I had some serious dental work done this week." The longest threads in the community section of "Boomer Board" are about estrogen-replacement therapies. A new boomer site, myprimetime.com has so brazenly donned the generation's narcissistic garment that without irony, it calls its series of cheesy self-evaluation quizzes "Me Meters." On "Are You a Candidate for Burnout?" I scored an 86.
The Marriott chain has opened about 150 managed-retirement communities under the names Brighton Gardens and MapleRidge, apparently confident that boomers will be filling the apartments in 10 years, the assisted-care quarters in 20, the intensive-care units in 30. About 25% of those latter spaces are being specifically reserved for residents with cognitive disorders. Makes sense: while only 8% of people over 65 suffer from the severe memory loss that characterizes Alzheimer's disease, the number leaps to a range of 30% to 47% for those over 85, and we all know that we're going to live longer than our parents. Boomer watcher Dychtwald, in his list of 10 physical, social, spiritual, economic and political crises just ahead, puts "mass dementia" at No. 2.
If you want a glimpse of the boomer future that you'll never see in the ads for Brighton Gardens or MapleRidge (knowingly ironic boomer question: Where do they come up with these names?), travel instead to Rochester, Minn., and the Mayo Clinic. In Dr. Darryl Chutka's classroom, the 10 first-year medical students look a little different from what you might expect. They're all wearing goggles coated in a clear film, ear plugs, heavy rubber gloves, extra-thick socks. They also have marshmallows stuffed in their mouths, corn kernels scattered inside their shoes, stiff, confining braces around their necks--and enormous, padded diapers stuffed inside their underclothes.