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Documentary Studies Boomers' challenges

Posted on 12th May 2010 @ 7:28 PM

Rancho Mirage couple's creation to air on PBS

Michael Perrault

James and Carolyn Ausman, originators of The Leading Gen!The Desert Sun
May 20, 2007


Creating documentaries that explore the formidable challenges facing Baby Boomers may not be brain surgery.

But for neurosurgeon Dr. James Ausman and his wife Carolyn, it's what's closest to their hearts these days.

The Rancho Mirage couple created a pilot television program called "The Leading Gen - What will you do with the rest of your life?" that will air on PBS KCET-TV Desert Cities in mid-June.

The half-hour documentary could evolve into a 13-part series if potential underwriters or sponsors fund the project.

Working with a crew to make the documentary was as much a labor of love for the Ausmans as a learning experience.

"The most important personal lesson I re-learned from making this pilot is to continue to have a love, compassion, the profound respect for other people and their hopes, dreams and hardships," said Carolyn Ausman, executive producer of the show.

The Milwaukee natives hope viewers find the program educational, and that they come away with a better understanding of why it makes sense for aging Americans to continue to lead active, productive lives.

Carolyn Ausman devoted the past few years to researching and planning how best to portray issues that are paramount in the lives of Baby Boomers and others, includingcenturions.

"Our studies have shown that inactive retirement is no longer considered a reward for one's lifelong work efforts for several reasons," Carolyn Ausman said.

For one, people are simply living longer than in past generations.

"The fundamental issue that has changed is we're living into our 80s and 90s," said James Ausman, who has been a neurosurgery professor at UCLA and other universities, former head of neurosurgery at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and editor of the international neurosurgical journal "Surgical Neurology."

"Those times can be very healthful, very vigorous," James Ausman said. "But unless you think about it and plan for it, it won't happen automatically."

Through interviews featuring couples such as Chris and Bruce Maxson of Idyllwild Gallery of Fine Arts, the Ausmans captured real-life, often emotional, personal stories that illustrate how people are learning to cope with a wide range of new and often unexpected challenges. The program also offers a glimpse into how people embark on new adventures and how they may be destined to fundamentally reshape the workplace.

The Ausmans - themselves both 69 years old - had crews film people across the valley and Idyllwild, many of them part of the nearly 78-million-strong Baby Boomer generation born between 1946 and 1964.

It's a demographic group with its own particular set of values and needs, significant financial clout at about $2.5 trillion, yet a segment of society that has been largely misunderstood by marketers, James Ausman said. Because many of their parents died at a much earlier age, many Boomers never learned how to plan well in order to live another 20, 30 or 40 years, James Ausman said. Now, with medical costs climbing along with other expenses, many find they don't have the money to live the way they'd hoped.

Before embracing her latest passion, Carolyn Ausman worked extensively educating patients about brain and spinal cord injuries, which included lecturing in more than 50 countries.

James Ausman has spent a lifetime understanding and teaching how people's brains work, and operating on them, so examining how living longer will affect minds and psyches seemed like a natural extension.

The more James Ausman worked closely with the aging population, the more clearly defined his conclusion: "Use it or lose it," he said.

"It sounds kind of crude, but basically the sum total of it is, if you don't keep active, keep involved, both physically and mentally, your life will disintegrate."

Many people plan to keep on working, in part because they may need the money, according to research conducted by AARP and other groups, said Lu Molberg, director of the Riverside County Office on Aging.

"There is a very small percentage who're going to be retiring in the traditional way," Molberg said.

"They want to start businesses of their own or work part time or work sporadically - where they work a little, then travel a little, then study a little, then go back and work."

James Ausman expects employers will one day face shortfalls in the overall workforce, prompting them to rethink how they'll tap skills and work ethics of aging workers and find places for them in their respective businesses.

One woman who e-mailed the Ausmans explained how she was having trouble re-entering the workforce later in life.

It's a common problem, James Ausman said, at least right now, and one that requires aging people to do their homework, think of new approaches and be willing to take risks.

"If you wait for somebody to give it to you, it won't happen," James Ausman said.

Significant scientific evidence gathered in recent years confirms that brain cells don't wither, so there's no reason Baby Boomers shouldn't continue to work and remain very active, James Ausman said.

"If you continue to use and stimulate your brain cells, (they) will continue to grow, establishing more connections," James Ausman said.

The Ausmans share information about everything from coping with rising medical costs and fewer retirement benefits to enhancing the quality of life on their Web site,, and in the Leading Gen TV program.

The program originally aired in February, making KCET Desert Cities the first PBS station to broadcast a show that defies conventional notions about aging. Debbi Hinton, general manager of KCET Desert Cities, said, "we felt the desert communities were singularly relevant" for the program's launch considering the Coachella Valley has long been a place where residents have led the way for healthy aging.

The Ausmans live their message, as Carolyn, plays tennis and enjoys gardening, James plays golf and both enjoy music and art, particularly Early American, Native American and Folk Art.

Although it can be tough to generalize about tens of millions of Baby Boomers, those who study the group tend to agree it's a segment of society that has no plans to live the next 30 years on society's sideline, said Matt Thornhill, founder and president of The Boomer Project, a marketing research and consulting firm in Richmond, Va.

Many Boomers are age 55 or 60, with 15-year-old, 10-year-old or younger children, so they're far from ready to retire, Thornhill said.

"You can't just use age as the shorthand way to know where a Boomer is in his or her life stage."