Centenarians fascinate me.
Think about it—they were alive before the airplane was invented, before “Mutt and Jeff” was introduced, when refrigeration was an icebox with a large block of ice, when butter was churned instead of bought from the grocery store, and when driving a car 15 miles an hour was speeding.
I have great respect for anyone who has such great staying power!
For a long time, demographers categorized the elderly as the young-elderly (65-74), middle-elderly (75-84) and old-elderly (85 and up). Now researchers have added new categories—centenarians and supercentenarians (110 and older).
Of course, these latter groups are much smaller, but they’re large enough that researchers feel much can be learned by studying them. Currently, there are 54,000 centenarians in the United States and 1,400 supercentenarians.
Aware of the increasing numbers, lawyer Lynn Peters Adler decided to research and write a book entitled “Centenarians: The Bonus Years.”
“I have had a deep and abiding interest in the well-being of older people ever since I was 15,” said the author. So deep is Adler’s interest that she has devoted her career to studying and increasing recognition of the very old.
Her book is a collection of stories about centenarians, compiled through 10 years of research and interviews with more than 250 centenarians and their families.
What she found was that centenarians had interesting lives and did marvelous things in spite of their age-related problems. At age 102, for instance, Eli Finn enrolled in history courses and was very disappointed that the scheduled trip to Moscow through the university was cancelled because of lack of student enrolment.
A member of the same health club for more than 80 years, retired dentist Collister Wheeler could still do chin-ups at age 95.
At 100, Anna King stayed so active that her friends called her “Speedy.” “Keeping busy keeps you healthy and helps you live long,” she said.
Tom Beston lived on a houseboat on the coast of California and walked several miles to the grocery store. “I like to walk. It’s good exercise and keeps me strong,” he noted.
And centenarian Felix Baker worked as a volunteer serving meals at a seniors’ centre.
Adler found many centenarians echoed the nearly-blind Billy Ealey when she said, “There may be old men and women out there, but I’m not one of them.”
These active older people affirm life. Adler was so impressed that she coined the phrase “the centenarian spirit.”
The centenarian spirit is a combination of the desire to continue to live and to enjoy living, the courage to meet the challenges of aging, and the ability to cope with losses and renegotiate life at every turn.
And most of all, centenarians are optimistic.
“I enjoy every day of my life,” “I get up in the morning happy,” “I’m never bored,” and “l love to laugh” are some of the things that the centenarians confided to the author.
“The centenarian spirit can be applied to living excellently at any age,” said Adler. “It means living each day well . . . keeping one’s outlook positive, realistic, and yet optimistic.
“To embrace the centenarian spirit is to discover the fountain of youth within ourselves.”
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.visit-snider.com
Centenarians fascinate me.