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Bruzzese: Boomers never knew it could get this scary

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011

Baby boomers use face serums, teeth whiteners, exercise programs and plastic surgery to look younger for work, but it could be that the greatest change isn't happening on the outside -- but what they're going through on the inside.

Many in the baby boomer generation had planned on retiring by now. But in this poor economy, they are struggling to deal with a ton of anxiety about their financial well being, says Tamara McClintock Greenberg, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

"I've got patients who are checking the stock market several times a day, they're so worried," Greenberg says. "There's a lot of worrying."

Greenberg says baby boomers are concerned about younger workers coming in to take their places. If they're laid off, they face a daunting challenge as unemployment for those older than 55 has grown by about 2.4 million -- or 9.3 percent -- since the official start of the recession in December 2007. Health statistics show Americans have an average life span of 77.9 years, and boomers are realizing they may be facing decades of financial demands.

"You've got people who are worried that if they live 30 years past retirement, will they be able to support themselves• Will they run out of money?" Greenberg says. "This all comes at a time when they may be also dealing with aging parents and children still at home.

"I have great sympathy for baby boomers right now," she says.

Older workers can better handle the financial, personal and professional demands that are creating so much stress for them right now in a number of ways, Greenberg says. She suggests they:

Plan realistically. While you might think you have a tidy nest egg for retirement, what happens if a spouse or family member becomes ill?

"Make yourself have these difficult conversations, no matter your income level," Greenberg says, adding that a qualified financial adviser can help you set up a plan.

Maximize health-insurance benefits. "Some people really feel like they need concierge medical care, but I suggest people try to use the benefits they have and find doctors that will take their health insurance," she says. "Take advantage of getting your health care paid for as much as possible."

Look for support. "Baby boomers have always had a great commitment to help, so they can get caught up in intense caretaking for someone like an aging parent," Greenberg says. "But there is a price to be paid for doing that. They need to think about what they can realistically do."


Don't self-medicate. "The baby boomers are amazingly resilient, but they are really disillusioned and disheartened right now. They were in many ways a privileged generation, so there's really not a lot of sympathy for what they're going through," Greenberg says. "The temptation for them right now is to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol."

Greenberg says she hopes that employers will recognize the stress older workers may be under and support them by reminding them of the valued experience they bring to the workplace and their role in a company's success.

"I really do think that right now baby boomers need more of our sympathy and understanding," the associate professor says. "They tried really hard in their lives to make social change and were the most idealistic and socially conscious generation."

The struggle they face right now is more than they ever thought would happen, she says.



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