US Pharm. 2008;33(1):2.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average life expectancy for Americans is 78 years. Thanks to the sophisticated advances in medicine, diagnoses, and medical procedures, more people are living longer and enjoying a better quality of life relative to their health. I recently saw a news story about life expectancy in the U.S. that carried the sensationalistic headline: "Fifty is the new Twenty." While I think many will argue that being 50 is certainly not the same as being 20, the point of the piece was that many "fiftysomethings" are enjoying a similar quality of life as "twentysomethings."

Over the years, journalists have become fond of categorizing age groups by what they think are clever names; names like Generation Xers, Yuppies, Empty Nesters, New-Olds, Blue Hairs, and Baby Boomers have become a part of our vocabulary since many of us seem to keep our actual age a closely held secret. The point is that one's age is being defined more by lifestyle than by number of years.

All of this gives new meaning to the famous proclamation by the great playwright and author George Bernard Shaw: "Youth is wasted on the young." Maybe that was true when the life expectancy in this country was 10 years younger, but today more people are actually enjoying their "golden years." Depending on who you listen to, baby boomers are roughly defined as those born during or shortly after World War II, when the Germans began surrendering (1945). It is estimated that for the next 18 years (1946 to 1964) there were some 76 million births at a rate of 3.8 children per couple. Today, this group is pharmacies' largest customer population. Therefore, it only makes sense that marketing efforts by pharmaceutical manufacturers and retail pharmacy outlets are more closely aligned to the needs of this important group of purchasers.

So it came as no surprise to me when I learned that drug chain giant Walgreens recently hooked up with AARP in creating a new catalog, AARP Health Essentials by Walgreens, accompanied by a new Web site on which AARP members can order their OTC drugs. According to The Resource for Marketing Executives, "Baby boomers spend more than $525 billion a year on health care and are responsible for 61% of all OTC medication purchases." AARP claims to have 39 million members who are age 50 or older. Walgreens obviously recognized the value and buying power of this age group and seized the silver ring by partnering with AARP. I suspect we will see more partnering of this kind as baby boomers continue to advance in age.

But aside from OTC products, baby boomers will also be purchasing more prescription medications from their local pharmacies as they age. And while savvy financial planning over the years by many baby boomers may have helped them pay for their health care services today, there is no question that they will be seeking more health care consulting services as they grow older; that is not something they can get from a catalog. Pharmacists should seize the opportunity and offer patient counseling as part of their health care offerings. As the memory process in many seniors continues to deteriorate, they will require more assistance in making sure they stay compliant in taking their medications and adhering to prescribed drug therapies. Pharmacists are in the best position to offer them this guidance.

By all estimates, it truly is the dawning of a new age; for pharmacists, it is also the beginning of new opportunities.

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