Initial insights: what the baby boomers told us

Caring is the fourth of five key themes that emerged during the time we spent with baby boomers in relation to five overarching areas that are often discussed in reports about ageing – and which we wanted to explore with baby boomers to find out what they mean in people’s lives:

We linked what we learnt from the baby boomers we spent time with to what we have found out from a range of the reports and research that has also explored these issues, and analysis of statistics about baby boomers. Read more background on our method in the introduction to the first theme, Participation, here, and on the Innovation Age work here.

What Baby Boomers Told Us About Caring


Yes we are the ‘sandwich generation’ – and sometimes it’s a sandwich with ‘the works’!

Research suggests that many of the baby boomer generation are caring with a ‘dual focus’ – on caring for their elderly parents, and then often also caring either for their own children (such as caring for adult children with disabilities) or their grandchildren. In addition, researchers have suggested that baby boomers are less likely to restrict themselves to a singular identity as a ‘carer’, but rather: “juggle care-giving, work, family, and social commitments. To succeed in this juggling act, they have high expectations of support from services” (Guberman et al, 2012;p.210).

Many of the baby boomers we spoke with had complex relationship and care responsibilities involving not just their elderly parents, but also children with disabilities, or with mental health, drug addiction or other psychosocial issues, and then either their own younger children from newer relationships, or active caring of their grandchildren. For many, caring was a large part of life. Penelope’s situation highlights some of the complexities this sometimes involves. She balances a number of caring roles, in addition to dealing with some complex health issues herself.

“I am David’s carer [her son who has a permanent physical disability from a work accident]. I do what I can to help him get around and manage the emotional ups and downs. I also care for my aunt living with dementia. Originally that involved constant and unpredictable support to keep her in her own home. Now I am her legal guardian supporting and advocating for her in her nursing home. I have to balance these caring roles with my own health needs, this doesn’t leave much extra capacity.

So when my parents started needing care a month ago, after Dad had two falls and a resulting head injury, they became a stressor for me. They have been resisting making adaptations at home, this has stressed me out.

My sister works full-time but she helps out when I need her; I would hate to do it without her but her availability is narrow. My active time and energy is limited and I get overwhelmed because the list of things to do gets longer and longer”.

Some of the baby boomers we spoke with were also parents of young children – like Peter, who had two young children from his second marriage, in addition to older, adult children from his first marriage. He described some of the confusion this created in his life:

“The tough part is having a 5-year-old and a 7-year old at 60. I’m viewed as their grandfather by others – like Seb’s child care worker who said ‘now say goodbye to Grandad’ when I dropped him off; like the well meaning grandparents in the playground, who were probably not much older than me, saying to Olivia and Seb ‘hope you two are being good for Grandad’; like the time Olivia herself told me I looked like a granddad! It’s not just that though, while I’m very active physically I find I lack the patience and tolerance to parent like I did the older three kids”.

We might need care ourselves someday, but it needs to be different to what’s on offer now

We spoke with people about what they saw as the care system, and how they saw their future should they need care options. Many thought that the current aged care system was not something they wanted to experience themselves.

Dean was very strident in saying:

“I’d rather take my own life than end up in care”.

There was certainly a degree of fear about future care needs, and a few people found it very difficult to talk about any plans they had regarding care options.

Nicky was concerned about her future if she needs care, and also the care of her husband John:

“I don’t want to lose my dignity. I can’t imagine ever having to wipe John’s bum, but I never want anyone else to have to do that for me. I think euthanasia should be an option for people”.

Carmen was concerned about being ‘hidden away’ in the aged care sector:

“The aged care sector is really behind and we are still hiding people away who have dementia and I can’t stand that. I’m a real humanist; the society recognising and accepting and having the skills and awareness to embrace those older people and find their strengths and deliver service and support not just for older people, but for their families. The whole aged care industry, isn’t working, it’s a mess, it’s a bloody mess”.

This is a conundrum for policy makers and planners, because according to research, baby boomers are actually likely to be relatively unhealthy despite living longer, with diabetes, hypertension and obesity increasing across the cohort (see Black et al., 2015); plus having less opportunity to call on partners and children to provide for their care as they age (see Hugo, 2014). So, the need for innovative approaches to exploring care options amongst the baby boomers will be critical.

By Ingrid Burkett, Project Director and Kerry Jones, Project Lead, The Innovation Age.

Find out more about The Innovation Age.

This is the sixth of seven excerpts we’ll be sharing from the Starting the Innovation Age Report: Boomer’s perspectives on what it takes to age well. This is the first report in a series as we open an invitation to be part of this movement towards what we are terming ‘The Innovation Age’. You can also download the report in its entirety here.