Over the weekend, Muri and I attended the 75th birthday party of a friend, Eric. It was a lovely affair with lots of friends, a Southwestern dinner catered by a local restaurant, the Blue Agave, and a Mariachi band to accompany the festivities. Eric looks great for seventy-five. He still coaches the tennis team at a local high school and they tell me that he does all the stretches and exercises with the team. After we sang him Happy Birthday, he gave a short speech in which he said, I’ve always said I want to make it to a hundred. And I’m inviting you all to my hundredth birthday party. Here’s the truth … I thought, I don’t think I’ll make it, Eric.. That isn’t what I really meant, though. I meant I’m not sure I want to live ’til 95, the age I’d have to reach to attend Eric’s hundredth birthday party. Now I know there are a lot of people out there who say things like Age is just a number and Sixty is the new forty, which I suppose makes Ninety-five the new seventy five. But I haven’t seen too many people whose quality of life makes me want to live until ninety-five. My Dad, may he rest in peace, had some great years between seventy and ninety, years in which I got to know him man-to-man (instead of son-to-man). I treasure those years but from ninety on, his life consisted of an ever increasing frequency of trips to the hospital for relatively minor health problems. He passed away at ninety-two, after telling my sister, I don’t think I’m going to make it this time. He was ready.
According to a survey done by the Pew Research Foundation, I’m not alone … ninety is the median age that survey respondents said they wanted to reach. Sixty-nine percent of the people survey placed their ideal life span between 70 and 100. I suspect not many sixty-nine year olds said seventy. Now, while I was researching these statistics, I discovered an interesting study done by the National Institute of Science regarding aging. Based on a survey of over 340,000 people in 2008, by almost any measure, people get happier as they get older. In fact, the study showed that happiness declined from 18 to 50, then began to steadily rise until at 85, people tend to be happier than when they were 18. That’s great news for those of us heading into our later years but it sheds no light on the wisdom of living past ninety. According to an article in Forbe Magazine on so-called Radical Life Extension, Some of the nation’s brightest minds have declared an all-out war against aging. From Google’s campus to university labs to government think tanks, researchers claim that babies born this year should live up to 120 years and that, long before today’s infants mature, some readily achievable changes in health care will have produced millions of sharp, active and healthy centenarians.
So, should I join my friend Eric in the Make It to One Hundred Club? Fortunately, we don’t get to select the age of our passing in advance. Yes, I know we can influence how long we live with dietary and life style choices but I’m not willing to live on kale-quinoa pilaf to assure an extra ten years of dementia. And, as someone who’s already reached seventy, I wish our researchers would put their effort into eliminating Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Not having to worry about a long life with Alzheimer’s … or perhaps worse, a long life taking care of a loved one suffering from some form of dementia … would certainly make me more inclined to live longer. Radical Life Extension research* could change everything in a decade or two. So, for now, I’m sticking with 90 but in reality, I’ll play it by ear. Ask me when I’m 80. Or 89. Hopefully, like Kenny Rogers’ Gambler (and my Dad),I’ll know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em … and hopefully, I can fold ’em peacefully.
* There is a wonderful article on the social and ethical implications of Radical Life Extension in The Atlantic, titled Radical Life Extension is Already Here but We’re Doing It Wrong. I may post on it down the road but if you are interested now, it’s here.