Senior Lifestyles: The upside/downside of modern medicine and technology

Published 10:00 pm Monday, July 10, 2017

The following article deals with an extremely difficult and sensitive subject. Like most of you, I too have opinions about it, and it points out the fact that we need to face and deal with this difficult and growing problem much sooner than later.

Those of you who read my columns regularly know that I prefer to address issues that often have attainable solutions and reasonable outcomes. However, the enormity of the problem I’ll address today doesn’t seem to have a quick or simple conclusion. Nevertheless, I am a realist, and this problem is already upon us and in need of being addressed.

I think we can all agree that we live in amazing times. People with injuries, illnesses and diseases that not a decade ago were considered fatal, with little hope of survival, are now, if not being cured, are seeing their lives dramatically extended.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

For our children and grandchildren, those born since about 1990, median life expectancy, according to a report from the World Economic Forum, is now in the high 90s and low 100s. Even those of us born in the 1940s and 1950s, living well into our 80s and far beyond has become commonplace. If you happen to be reasonably fit, and take care of yourself with diet, sleep, exercise and limit bad habits like tobacco, excessive alcohol or drugs in your lifestyle, living into your 90s is one of the benefits of today’s modern medicine and advancing technology.

That’s a fantastic opportunity, to be given the time to do or accomplish some of the things or dreams on your “Bucket List.” It’s truly the upside of modern science and medicine.

What’s the downside? If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the concerns over entitlements, you already know some or all of the challenges facing the new reality of living longer. I won’t debate what an entitlement is; I’ll make my assumptions for this article based solely on what our entitlements and problems are, based on information available today.

If you are fabulously wealthy, you can ignore the rest of this article, because whatever the cost of living to 100 or beyond may be, you’re among the few who can simply write a check to pay for it. But for the rest of us, it’s like hearing that famous line from the movie Apollo 13, “Houston, we have a problem.”

The problem is that some of us are struggling to meet expenses and the ever-rising costs of living. Many are close to outliving their savings and ability to sustain their current lifestyle or economic situation. If they receive life extending medicines and procedures, how are we going to pay for those, and how long can we rely on the government, already $20 trillion in debt with almost 75 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) going to entitlements, being able to sustain our extended lives?

The questions are many and simple to ask. Where will these very old Americans live? Who will pay for their housing, food, medicine and healthcare as even more elderly find their lives extended? I don’t believe there are any satisfactory answers.

Based solely on the math, the current cost of entitlements, the growing number of nonworking retirees and elderly, the massive debt America has accumulated, the costs of long term and medical care, the shrinking labor force upon whose backs much of the existing and future debt will be placed, and the growing dependence upon a centralized government to solve this problem and save us, seems to be an insurmountable problem.

As I said at the outset, you and I may have our opinions as to the solution, but based on my knowledge, experience and some expertise in the field, do I believe that this can be resolved? Yes. But if anyone believes that this can be done without significant pain, sacrifice and suffering for many years to come once we face the inevitable facts, I’m sorry to tell you that there will be no easy fix.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at