Getting Old

Regular readers of this blog know that I am passionately committed to the Alzheimer’s Association.  Currently, I serve as the co-chair of the Los Angeles Walk to End Alzheimer’s.


A couple of weeks ago, another member of the committee and I got into a heated debate about how to boost awareness of Alzheimer’s.  Her solution was a campaign to convince people about the realities of Alzheimer’s disease and how it will affect the population in the next several decades.


I knew it wouldn’t work.   I’ve seen this method fail.


I thought back to an experience I had several years ago.  I was invited to a focus group that was organized by one of my colleagues that sells long-term care insurance.


The purpose of the group was to help him determine why it is that more people do not purchase LTC insurance, and what could be done to solve that problem.


As the conversation progressed, it was apparent that people, in general, do not think about long-term care insurance because they aren’t thinking about their long-term care in the first place – will they need assisted living, skilled nursing, home care, etc.?


But as I listened, I realized there was a bigger problem.  The reason that people do not think about their long-term care planning is because of something much more fundamental.  Ultimately, people do not think about aging.  They do not want to think about getting old.


Culture of Youth and BeautyBeauty


We live in a culture that is obsessed with youth and beauty.  Billions of dollars are spent every year to help people “stay young,” “look young,” and “turn back the clock,” despite the fact that our bodies don’t ultimately comply.


When this happens, the last thing an individual wants to think about is old age.  Skin wrinkling, hair whitening, body slowing down, and ultimately much worse.


Think about how this affects society’s view of Alzheimer’s disease.  While there is early-onset Alzheimer’s, the disease primarily affects the elderly, and more importantly, the perception is that it is an “old person’s disease.”


As such, Alzheimer’s becomes the one major disease that most people don’t want to think about.


It is often easier to think about cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.  As horrible as they are, these conditions don’t force you to think about “getting old,” precisely because they affect people of all ages.


In some ways, it is easier for many people to confront the reality of a child with cancer than an old man with Alzheimer’s, because the old man may remind them of what they may become.


Solving this Problem


Alzheimer’s disease needs advocates.  As I have stated before, Alzheimer’s is, without question, the most under-funded of the major diseases, relative to its prevalence.  And with no celebrities of high stature that openly advocate (like Magic Johnson, Michael J. Fox, etc.), we have to rely on our “ground game.”


While I don’t have a true solution to his problem, I know what needs to happen.  People in our society need to come to grips with reality… we are getting old.  This is unavoidable, and it requires planning.


Statistics show that currently, 70% of all long-term care insurance customers will utilize their insurance, and this number is only increasing.  That means that at some point, you WILL need some sort of care.


It also means you have, sadly, a high likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.


So go to the beauty salon, dye your hair, and renew your gym membership.

Just remember that it won’t last forever.


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