Make it to 100 years old and things don’t feel so bad

I’m not certain it’s the yogurt either

Many studies of very old people seem to boil down to this: trying to figure out what they ate, drank and did, so that other people can try to live that long, too. Daniela S. Jopp, an assistant psychology professor at Fordham University, is more interested in how people actually feel once they approach 100.

Younger people can derive lessons from her findings, but beyond that Professor Jopp hopes her research can help the very old lead fulfilling, socially connected lives until the very end…

There is a paradox in the desire to live longer, she said. Many people want to reach an advanced age, but they do not actually want to be that old, she said. Yes, it’s seen as better than the alternative. But over all, “We have a very negative view of very old age,” she said.

Her research gives cause for hope: It shows that once people approach 100, they tend to have a very positive attitude toward life. This is the case even though “they have on average between four and five illnesses, which are pretty disabling and hinder them from doing the things they want to do,” Professor Jopp said. They still have goals, she said, and they are not ready to die just yet. They want to see how the Yankees fare next season or attend the wedding of a grandchild.

This attitude holds true across the socioeconomic spectrum, although having enough money to pay for one’s medications is very important to well-being, she added.

In fact, people 95 and older report higher levels of satisfaction with life than those who are decades younger, Professor Jopp said. She speculates that people in their 60s and 70s have not yet fully adapted to their impairments, whereas the very old have reached a state of acceptance.

Professor Jopp’s observations are based on studies of people in Heidelberg, Germany, and a study she did of 119 very old New Yorkers chosen from voter registries and nursing homes.

She has found that in addition to being optimistic, the very old tend to be extroverted and to exhibit “self-efficacy,” meaning they report feeling in control of their lives. Most of the people in the New York study live within the community, many of them alone, and most greatly value retaining a sense of independence, she said…

Professor Jopp says she hopes her research will help uncover ways to offer better social services for the very old. And she hopes it will open up new avenues for the very old to pass along their insights and knowledge to others. As she puts it: “They have a lot to share — and to contribute to society.”

Yes, there are mornings when I feel like I already am 100. But, that hasn’t anything to do with Phyllis Korkki’s article does it? 🙂

RTFA for some of the interesting anecdotes. I certainly think her conclusions provide some guidance. Above all else I believe in keeping my curiosity about the whole world and science rolling right on through to the end of my life. I’m not likely to change that.

Neither am I to become less of a hermit. I access the world through the Web and any number of sources of communications – as I always have. My presence isn’t needed in a traditional round dance at a facility full of elders. Especially since they aren’t likely to be my peers. I don’t think the good doctor would consider that a contradiction.

I find most folks are a time capsule by the time they reach thirty. They stop learning. And if you stop learning, I don’t think you are well equipped to do a very good job of thinking for yourself either. Perhaps Dr. Jopp’s exceptional centenarians are an exception to that rule as well.

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