, Newburyport, MA


December 6, 2011

Longevity: the blessing and the bane

One of the new conversations around the Thanksgiving table this year was how old grandpa and great-grandma are — too old to make it to the table, but plenty old to be a key topic.

I don't remember years ago that we had so many relatives or friends with relatives in their 90s. My mother is 93, already five years older than any relative in her family. My friend's mother is 99. And another friend's mother passed away this year at 104.

The obvious question is: How do we expect to live, if we live that long, too? None of these nonagenarians is able to move around easily. Deteriorating eyesight limits reading and TV viewing. But many are coherent and alert, and some question the advantages of limited lives extended by modern medicine.

Are we prepared to be the next generation's ancient ones, alive but unable to make it to the Thanksgiving table?

Universally, the over-85 crowd wants its independence and wants to avoid any situation in which it will become a burden to the younger generation. It is certain that we of the "younger" generation will also feel strongly about being on our own, financially, physically and psychologically, if we can.

But we don't know what the next 25 years or more will bring. More costly advances in medicine to extend our lives out even longer?

In my view, the new life expectancy gives those in their healthy 60s and 70s more time and energy to live fully — whatever that may mean to each individual. Explore new skills, travel new lands, make new friends.

One of my grandfathers, a sawyer in the Pennsylvanian woods, worked till his early 60s and died in great pain from cancer at age 66 at the home of one of his daughters. He was not blessed as we are with the opportunity to spend two or decades enjoying life before being unable to make it to the Thanksgiving table on our own.

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