By Dave Warner
Question: who wants to live to be 100?
Answer: somebody who’s 99.
That’s an old joke, which brought smiles to many faces over the years. But these days, it’s more reality than witty, as America and the world are aging in unprecedented ways, bringing new health and lifestyle issues to the fore.
A federal government study says the number of people over the age of 85 is the fastest growing segment of the American population.
“And living to 100 is becoming increasingly commonplace,” the report from the National Institute on Aging says. “In 1950, there were approximately 3,000 American centenarians. By 2050, there could be nearly 1 million.”
Jack Lindsley, of Lambertville, N.J., is part of that aging tide. He turned 100 in November, and symbolically he celebrated it with colleagues where he works – as a volunteer at a local hospital.
“I’ve worked all my life, even after I retired I’ve worked” Lindsley said..
These days, he works in the hospital, delivering mail to patients, and when he’s not doing that he volunteers at his church, and if all that is not enough he hangs out with the firefighters at a fire house close to his home.
He’s been a member of the fire company for 77 years, but his actual fire fighting days are over.
“The best I can do now is to make coffee,” he said of his firehouse visits.
He retired from his job as a U.S. postal worker in 1978.
While Lindsley has a full and productive life, that is not universally true for centenarians.
The Institute on Aging report notes that diseases that threaten older people remain a concern. Included in that list are osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones ), Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.
Some people have more than one ailment as they get older and all of that can impact the quality of life, experts say.
Still, said the report, “Modern medicine and new insights into lifestyle and other environmental influences are allowing a growing number of people to remain healthy and socially and emotionally vital into advanced ages.”
The United States is not the only place on the planet where the population is aging – it’s a world-wide trend.
The U.S. Census Bureau says, in fact, that the world population is aging at an unprecedented rate.
“As we move through the first decade of the 21st century, population aging has emerged as a major demographic worldwide trend,” the bureau says.
Not only is the world population aging, says the bureau, but the number oldest of the old – those over 80 – is projected to increased by 233 percent by 2040, compared to a mere 33 percent for the population as a whole.
Here are some of the issues that boom is sparking:
- Families are changing. We’re living longer, and having fewer children. So by the time we’re older, there are fewer children to care for us.
- Health and pension systems are pressured because there are more elderly people and they’re retired longer.
- Social entitlement programs will feel the impact.
Said another study by the National Institute on Aging and the Department of State:
“People are living longer and in some parts of the world healthier lives. This represents one of the crowning achievements of the last century but also a significant challenge. Longer lives must be planned for. Societal aging may affect economic growth and many other issues, including the sustainability of families, the ability of states and communities to provide resources for older citizens and international relations.”
That’s the global perspective on aging, as you head for the oldest of the old category. Here are some up close and personal tips from the University of Texas school of nursing for how to treat yourself right:
- Here’s one that Lindsley took to heart: don’t retire. Either work part-time or volunteer. The reason: it keeps your brain busy.
- Keep in touch with friends and family, in other words a social network you can rely on when you need it. And you don’t have to stop there – it’s never too late to make new friends.
- Be willing to make changes in your life as you get older.
- Have fun. By the time you’re considered to be aging, you probably have developed some leisure time interests. Keep doing them.
- Take care of your health. Don’t smoke, don’t drink to excess, eat right, get some exercise.
- Learn some new skills.
- Work on having a positive outlook on life.
- Maintain some sense of independence.
- Spin a yarn. As you get older, you have many experiences you can share with your family.
It’s easy to put a rosy cast on the sometimes difficult time that approaching the oldest of the old age can pose. Walk into a home that offers care to the very old, and you can see people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, or confined to wheel chairs.
From that perspective, Lindsley is one of the fortunate.
“When I volunteer at the hospital and see people a lot younger than I am, I feel I am very fortunate,” he said.
He’s a widower, his wife died in 1990, but his daughter lives nearby, and he has two grandchildren as well.
His most memorable time? When he landed on Omaha beach on D-Day. Like many combat veterans, though, he offers few details of that time.
“I don’t like to talk about it,” he said.
But he’s happy to talk about his life as a centenarian. For instance, he cooks for himself every day.
“I eat when I feel like eating,” he said, “I had pancakes and sausage for breakfast, and at noon I had a turkey salad sandwich.” All made by him.
He volunteers, he cooks, he sees his daughter, his makes coffee for the firefighters. So what’s his advice for those about to turn 100?
“The only thing I can contribute is to be continuously active,” he said.
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