As America Ages, Part Two: Personal health demands more attention as boomers age

Lew Miskowicz tapped one of his reconstructed knees to ensure its durability while recounting his firsthand experiences with the effects aging has on his mother.

The 61-year-old former high school social studies teacher and coach from Woodstock knows all too well what age can do to an able-bodied, sharp-minded individual.

Miskowicz weekly makes a near three-hour trek to his hometown of Rock Island to care for his 85-year-old mother, Marilyn, who during the past few years started to lose feeling in her legs, arms and hands.

She made the decision to enter an assisted living facility after doctors labeled her condition as something between muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

As the lead caregiver, Miskowicz has made it his duty to keep track of his mom’s finances, guarantee that birthday gifts to relatives still are mailed, and make her feel wanted.

He pushes her around in her wheelchair to the casinos that populate the Quad Cities area divided along the Iowa and Illinois border, but he also has to adapt to the new reality of feeding his mother.

The mother-son role reversal has brought the issue of Miskowicz’s own health closer to home.

“It’s theoretical until you watch somebody who you really know go through this,” he said. “There’s a little bit more inspiration to take care of yourself.”

Like many from the baby boomer generation, Miskowicz’s own health has now become more of a priority that it ever was during his working days.

Before retiring in 2007, Miskowicz spent 26 years at William Fremd High School in Palatine practicing and game planning as coach for football games and track meets.

But within his initial years of retirement, Miskowicz was told that the countless hours spent on the playing field was going to cause him to have both of his knees replaced.

He even had to wait six months between knee replacements because the doctors were concerned that his diabetes, diagnosed months after retirement, could complicate the surgeries.

The health concern boom

Miskowicz is not alone in the onset of health problems following retirement. As thousands of baby boomers hit retirement age in the coming years, health will become a foremost concern.

While 78.2 million Americans are considered baby boomers, 50 percent of them between the ages of 55 to 64 have high blood pressure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

Nearly 40 percent in that age bracket have some form of cardiovascular disease. The American Hospital Association projects that six out of 10 baby boomers will have more than one chronic condition by 2030, while one in four will have diabetes and one half will have some form of arthritis in that time.

Inspired by his mom, Miskowicz monitors his diet more closely, and he tries to exercise daily to keep his diabetes in check and keep the reconstructed knees in prime shape.

He watches how much sleep he gets from day to day, and he takes to the Internet to research workout and weightlifting programs for people 60 and older.

“I’m much better at trying to prevent anything from happening than when I was younger,” Miskowicz said. “You wear yourself out when you’re younger, but now I try to do everything a little bit better.”

Meeting the boom

Health care providers throughout the McHenry County area are well aware of the statistics that point to the increasing health complications of an aging Baby Boomer generation.

At Centegra Health System, officials have focused resources on creating more wellness and preventative care programs to help keep the costs of health care down in the face of an aging population, said Hadley Streng, director of planning and business development for Centegra.

Officials at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington also have emphasized the need for preventative screenings to their 50 and older patients to stave off medical costs later in life, said hospital President Karen Lambert.

The hospital also foresees a shift in demand toward more outpatient services, with nurses making in-home visits to check with patients, as a way to keep patients from checking in the hospital.

Centegra even operates a wellness center out of Sun City, Huntley, to meet the daily health demands of the numerous baby boomers who live in the sprawling retirement community off Route 47.

“They do their research, their smart, and they know what they want,” Streng said. “It will definitely increase the demand, and that’s why we look at what services are out there.”

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