What’s Beyond For Baby Boomers And The HAB?

Posted: Nov. 3, 2011, 12:20 p.m. EDT


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As a baby boomer, I  officially enter my senior years when I turn 65 on Nov. 5. My husband, Ira Lifland, who is two months younger than I, follows in January.

We are glad to be eligible for Medicare and thankful to be able to save a lot of money on our health insurance premiums, which were more than $30,000 last year. Even though we are healthy, our premiums have been upped annually, paralleling the profits of our carrier.

Going on Medicare will be a raise for us. Our strategy is to forgo Social Security payments until we turn 70 so we receive more in the long run if we survive past 80.

Ira always envied me for loving what I do. This profession is wonderful, and I enjoy working our concierge referral practices. Animal Oncology Consultation Service and Pawspice is one. Carreen Lynch, RVT, is my Pawspice partner. Pawspice offers palliative care and gentler standard care for cancer patients.

It transitions into hospice as the patient’s quality of life declines or if death is expected soon. Carreen has worked with me for most of the past 25 or so years. She has read my book and crosses my T’s and dots my I’s. This is job security. I am  one senior who won’t be demoted by a human resources official who must obey a board of directors or stockholders vote to pinch my vested pension plan.

No one is going to force me to retire because of gray hair or wrinkles like many of my friends in other industries, especially nurses. So it is easy for me to plan on practicing for six to 10 more years if I want to.

American baby boomers like me should be looking forward to more time to enjoy life. It would be great if we can stay solvent and healthy and avoid having to financially rescue family members or prematurely bury obese children, grandchildren and companion animals. The October 2011 issue of Prevention magazine features an insightful article by Arthur Agatston, MD, a preventive cardiologist.

Current State of People

Agatston states that Americans are fatter and sicker than ever. He reviews the historical inventions that led to a cultural and technological transition to mass consumption of refined grains, processed foods, empty calories, too much sugar, fast foods, huge meal portions and the sedentary lifestyle. Thirty-five percent of today’s Americans ages 30-45 have a body mass index of 30 or greater and are predicted to die younger than their parents. It looks worse for their children, unless urgent action is taken.

Likewise, more than 30 percent of America’s pets are obese.

The human obesity epidemic adds to the havoc that smokers, alcoholics and drug abusers cause for themselves, their loved ones, society and the medical system. Demoralized medical doctors will be working on huge young people having heart attacks, arthritis, GI disorders, organ disease, gout, depression and myriad diseases related to diabetes, such as vascular disease, respiratory disease, renal and hepatic disease, endocrine and neurological disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia and suicide.

All these afflictions are readily predictable for the obese. Veterinary medicine knows these issues and consults clients about obese pets. Yet in St. Louis for the AVMA convention, this West Coast resident was astounded at the high rate of obesity in attendees.

Senior years will be sadder than expected for baby boomers. More than 30 percent of baby boomers have had to help their adult children out of financial disaster. They feel heartbroken for their addicted and/or impoverished loved ones and often raise grandchildren. They feel sad and fearful for themselves and for millions of people who have lost their jobs and/or their expected future security or life savings and worry about how things will go as they age.

The tremendous U.S. job loss might be due to the export of 200,000 jobs per month over the past 20 years, or recession related cutbacks, or the prolonged ripple effect of the recession that hurt or shut down many thousands of small businesses, including veterinary practices that had to sell, close or merge with larger facilities.

Millions of people have been able to keep their jobs and businesses by taking pay cuts. All this seems unfair as society learns about the huge profits that megacorporations reported last quarter due to successful streamlining, job cutbacks, shipping jobs overseas, price hikes and tax loopholes.

Feel the Pinch

Baby boomers are affected every which way. Some are housing loved ones who lost their homes after losing jobs, or from the real estate crash or the financial disaster caused by bad loans sold off by banks to world markets, trumped up as triple-A stock by unethical rating firms, for the “banksters” and Wall Street speculators who still got bonuses from taxpayer bailouts.

These multiple unbridled debacles injured the world economy and affected so many people’s livelihoods and their savings, investments, pensions and retirement accounts.

Sixty seven percent of Americans have pets and are among those having a rough time bringing their beloved pets to see the veterinarian. They are having trouble finding homes for their animals after evictions and moves into family members’ homes or rentals that won’t accept pets or their particular breed of dog.

How It All Affects Pets

The trickle-down effect of having less money sadly hurts companion animals, our profession, the shelter system, animal rescue organizations and the human-animal bond.

Pet owners are left crying outside emergency clinics. Many can’t afford the hefty deposits required to take care of their pets in the “either/or” medicine model that dictates “pay or kill” or my “way or the highway” medicine. The “or” inadvertently forces premature or rushed euthanasia, which lacks sensitivity to the human-animal bond.

A third more affordable option should be routinely offered. That would be palliative care for the sick or hospice care for the dying.

The AVMA revised its Hospice Care Guidelines to state that veterinarians are required to offer hospice care or should refer to a veterinarian who offers this service. According to Dr. Narda Robinson, palliative care can go a long way for spinal cord injury. But it is seldom offered at specialty facilities these days due to preference for expensive imaging and surgery.

Another example would be hemoabdomen dogs and cats. It is estimated that more than 2 million dogs will die from hemangiosarcoma every year in America. Families are mostly subjected to the “either/or” model when their hemoabdomen dogs could be given a third option for home hospice with a belly wrap, steroids for shock and medication for pain. Many pet owners would deeply appreciate the hospice option.

This would allow them an extended farewell for their beloved pets. This option would reduce a lot of human misery and unhelpful surgery and debt. Of course, clients should sign a consent form that clearly states the situation when their pets are released for home hospice.

At the recent AVMA meeting in St. Louis, a special forum was devoted to why there has been a 13 percent decline in veterinary office visits. The obvious transfer of wealth away from the middle class, which  owns the majority of America’s companion animals, is often overlooked. This is just sad.

How can small businesses survive and adjust and pay their rising bills with fewer customers and clients? Veterinarians are negatively affected by the dwindling income of the middle class. My heart aches for the human and companion animal suffering, including the neglect, misery and abuse of abandoned and unwanted horses.

Suffering Abounds

This human and animal suffering is going on right now in our homeland, the richest country in the world. How did all this upset and chaos happen? How did this transfer of wealth deplete and degrade our  middle class and its ability to maintain their pets properly?

It is beyond me why baby boomers or anyone who cares for future generations and for the human-animal bond would want to promote more of this degradation. Some of my siblings and best friends do.

Worse yet, many younger people whom I encounter don’t bother to vote at all. Is it because people have been successfully “dumbed down” and distracted? Is the younger generation really fatter, sicker and more sedentary, as Dr. Agatston states?

The answers are beyond this baby boomer.

Dr. Villalobos is a past president of the American Association. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and is president of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics. Her column appears every other month.

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