Aging Parents: People Who Age Well

“Extreme longevity”–what it takes, how to prepare for it, and why certain people are especially well suited for it.

Highly regarded, long-time Personal Health columnist, Jane Brody, examined the subject in the first of two articles entitled: “Secrets of the Centenarians” in yesterday’s NY Times Science Section.

Ms. Brody focused on the youngest of the 8 people featured, members of the century club (youngest 99, oldest 103).  In answer to the secret of the 99-year’s longevity, the role of genetics is discussed. (They play a part.  According to one geneticist, centenarians are 20 times more likely than the average person to have a long-lived relative. But genetics is only about 20-30% according to a Swedish identical twin study.  “Lifestyle seems to be the more dominant factor.”)

The 99-year-old thinks it’s “attitude” and cites three critical elements: resolution, resourcefulness and resilience. She also gets regular exercise, eats carefully, and follows her doctor’s advice. (See audio slide show online at nytimes.com/health and click on each photo to hear interview.)

My thoughts immediately shifted to senior advisor R, 97, now in rehab and making progress after her fall and resulting broken hip 3 weeks ago. These same qualities have guided her disciplined life. R has said many times she doesn’t know why she has lived this long, but as long as she’s alive she’s going to do her best to make the best of it.

Coincidently, last week our local paper featured a remarkable 99-year-old who spoke at a fundraiser–a former journalist who, in her younger days, interviewed Arctic explorers; arranged and escorted a secret mission that brought 1,000 Jewish war refugees to the US; covered the Nuremberg trials and was appointed a special assistant to Interior Secretary Harold Ickes during the Roosevelt Administration, among other accomplishments. Although she hobbled to the front of the room [to the podium], using a walker, “her mind was sharp, her words perhaps a bit slow, but moving and clear,” according to the reporter.

As parents live longer, we try to help them age well.  People who achieve “extreme longevity,” may have something intrinsic–resolution, resourcefulness, resilience, attitude, the discipline to exercise and eat carefully and follow doctors’ advice….

Perhaps the best we can do is remain caring, supportive, nonjudgmental sons and daughters, help when asked and be there for them as necessitated by health events. And make certain when we make suggestions about their life style, decisions, needs and values that these suggestions make it better for them, not easier for us.

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