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Book on 'Front-wave Boomers' reimagines aging

Staying connected while growing (very) old is key, says author of new book

In her new book Front Wave Boomers: Growing (very) Old, Staying Connected, and Reimaging Aging, Gillian Ranson examines those at the front wave of the baby boom--born between 1946 and 1965--that makes up more than 25 percent of the Canadian population. Ranson spoke to Alberta Prime Times about issues this wave of older baby boomers are already facing and will continue to grapple with in coming years.

Q: Who are Front Wave Boomers?

The book is about a big group, used to being at the forefront of social change, which their sheer numbers have helped to bring about at earlier points in their lives. I think they’ll also help to bring about change in the way we think about--and manage--aging.

Q: You share many stories of those now facing getting 'very' old?

A: I wrote about Philip. "At seventy-one, he was pulling back from his small consulting business, and he was wondering what to do next. It wasn’t that he was missing the work (though, during his career, it had “fed his soul”). It was that he now had questions about what might lie ahead.

“So now I’m in this space,” he said. “What am I to do? I have energy. I have enthusiasm, but I don’t know where it’s going ... It’s a disquieting time of life, is what it is.”

Q: What are lessons learned from the pandemic?

A: The pandemic's early, devastating effects in long-term care homes exposed staggering deficiencies in the system of eldercare in this country. That has surely made those front-wave boomers likely to be next in line to think very seriously about the kind of care they want. It certainly won’t be in congregate settings like long-term care homes that have been at the forefront of public concern.

Most older people, according to current research, would much prefer to “age in place” in their own homes. The onus on aging boomers is to think seriously about the care they’re likely to need, the kind of personal support they might be able to draw on, and the suitability of their current homes to accommodate them in (very) old age. Government supports should range from better public transportation (at the municipal level) to substantially more support (both financial and moral) for home care workers, who will be needed in much greater numbers as the huge boomer cohort enters very old age.

Q: You say we all share one thing: a need for intimate, caring, social ties to other people. Why?

A: We will die without them. That's the bottom line. Sociologists who study aging note that our lives are embedded in relationships with other people, at every age. Without at least some intimate ties, we risk social isolation, and the health problems that are known to accompany it. We need other people to keep us connected to the broader social world. But ultimately, as we age, most of us will need people to provide practical care, to help us with the activities of daily life we can no longer manage. In some cases, family members may be available to step up. It needs to be care that is caring, that recognizes us as people, not just as abstract case or client numbers. And we need to know someone is around to advocate for us, if there are times when we can't do that for ourselves.

Q: You're exploring aging and the future you and your peers are likely to find in Canada in years ahead. What does that future look like? 

A: I think we’re at a turning point. As well as exposing shameful deficiencies in the system, and the extent of ageism in our society, the pandemic has prompted serious thought, at both policy and practical levels, about what needs to change. If change happens--and I’m optimistic it will--then front-wave boomers should be better supported, and valued as citizens as we head into very old age. We won’t be sidelined in institutional care for lack of other options.

Q: How are some seniors 'creating better ways to grow old'? 

A: "I found many examples of people “creating better ways to grow old”. Some people I talked to were consummate planners. Yvonne was one of them. Yvonne was 71, and single, when we spoke. She had moved to British Columbia from Ontario six years earlier, partly to be closer to her son and his family. She was purposeful about how she set up her life there--she cultivated relationships, volunteered, joined hiking and music groups and more. Yvonne's connections were richly intergenerational.

Yvonne had some money invested, and that too was shaping her future planning. She was grateful for early financial advice that set her up with insurance to cover home care. She had put a deposit in a long-term care facility in the community, in which she would have her own unit, but could have meals provided."

Front-Wave Boomers is being called essential reading for baby boomers and their adult children, professionals who work with those in their golden years, and anyone who is simply curious about what the future could look like for them. See for more.