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Living to 100 is more common

A recent early morning walk involved a pleasant encounter with a neighborhood couple who had just returned from his father’s 100th birthday celebration. They marveled that their centenarian dad seemed to remember previously owned automobiles better than he did family members, providing detail on a Buick he had once owned even when he did not recognize himself in old photos.

I come from a long-lived family, and the stories prompted me to think about what I might be likely to remember if I lived to be a centenarian. I don’t think I would recall my 1964 Volkswagen better than I do my grandchildren’s names. But, as I ponder that further, it was my very first car, it got me through several fierce Minnesota snowstorms, and I sold it for almost as much as I paid for it. Great little car, I remember when my VW apologies, I digress.

I have several decades to enjoy before I claim centenarian status, and when and if I do, I hope my memory of both cars and people will be intact. If I reach 100 years, I will apparently not be alone. A quick look at some of the more reliable demographic data (Boston University’s School of Medicine Centenarian Study) indicates “in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, centenarians occur at a prevalence rate of about one per 6,000 people. When this particular study began in 1994, the prevalence rate was one per 10,000, making centenarians one of, if not the fastest-growing segment of the population.”

An exhaustive (or maybe the word is “exhausting”) 19-page article available through the Institute for Demographic Research in Rostack Germany concluded we are 10 times more likely to have people living to be our oldest old than we were in the 1970s. The possible life span of the human species has increased from an originally projected 112 to a possible 122 years. Actually, that was something I already knew. The Bible told me so. “And the Lord said, my spirit shall not always strive with man, for he is also flesh; his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3)

Local records may not be entirely reliable, but there is apparently a Bolivian shepherd who lived to 123 years — you can find his wrinkled and smiling face on the web. As I browse through centenarian photos, I find most are, indeed, smiling widely — knowingly.

For those who embrace aging rather than rage against it (you know who you are), there are advantages to living such a long life. Research shows that centenarians have “lower rates of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.” They are “a happy and optimistic group with extremely low rates of depression.” Dementia in centenarians is not as inevitable as once believed.

Neither you nor I may reach that 100-year marker, but just in case. You may be more likely to realize centenarian status if you stay lean, stay active, figure out ways to manage stress and avoid smoking. That said, one of the most famous French super-centenarians reportedly smoked one cigarette after every meal.

One never knows. Ever onward.

Sharon Johnson is a retired educator and executive director of Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley. Reach her at sharon@rbtrv.org