When someone talks about an individual who is over the age of 100, other people often groan. They respond to the effect of, “I would never want to live that long.” We, as a nation, are put off by the aging process, and look at growing old as something to fear rather than celebrate. There is a stigma about growing old. The older you get, the sicker you are. The older you get, the less you have control of your faculties.
The truth is, for centenarians, the road to 100 can be smoother than the road to 65 for most.
According to the New England Centenarian Study, individuals age 100 and older markedly delay disability toward the end of their lives. On average, these centenarians do not face significant impairment until 93 years old. Nearly half of centenarians involved in the study did not display any demonstrable disease before the age of 80.
In other words, the older you get, the healthier you have been.
Nowhere is this hypothesis more visible than the annual Centenarian’s brunch.
Louise Silva’s hearing isn’t great, but she is still known as a great pianist and a lover of sweets, even as she is on the verge of her 110th birthday. She is in a nursing home now, but she lived independently with her daughter until she was 105. Once you get Thomas Mimnaugh started talking about his family, he’ll go off on a tangent. The 100-year-old loves to talk about his late wife, and carries a list of the names of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren with him at all times. And Elvira Scotti, a spring chicken at 99 years old, hasn’t changed a bit. She insisted on getting a kiss from brunch host Mario Hilario, and showed off her handmade suit. She doesn’t look a day over 80.
These stories are not entirely uncommon in Rhode Island. Sixty-one centenarians or soon-to-be centenarians attended the event, and the Division of Elderly Affairs located a total of 122 Rhode Islanders over the age of 100. Seniors over the age of 80 is one of the fastest growing demographics in our population, and Rhode Island has more centenarians per capita than any other state in the country.
So what does that tell us about Rhode Island? Catherine Taylor, DEA director, believes natural beauty plays a part in that. Rhode Islanders benefit from the sun and sand of the Ocean State, and it enriches our lives. More than that, though, it tells us that we are doing a good job at keeping seniors engaged in their communities. We have vibrant senior centers, strong outreach from the state DEA and strong neighborhood identities that keep people engaged. Keeping people engaged in their communities combats loneliness and depression, two of the biggest problems that plague us as we age. Depression can lead to physical ailments, so a happy mind plays a big part in a healthy body. If we continue to cherish and celebrate our centenarians and seniors, and provide for them an important place in our communities, we can break the stigma of aging.
There’s nothing to fear about getting older, only more time to celebrate.