What’s the secret to aging gracefully? Residents of Pacific Regent La Jolla retirement community got some answers during a March 18 presentation titled “Incredible things happening in the world of aging,” by gerontologist Jon Schwartz.
Schwartz started the presentation by asking the audience to think about the most impressive event that has happened in the last century. To cue the crowd, he showed pictures of influential moments in American history: The Industrial Revolution, invention of the car/plane, victory in World War II, landing on the moon, the dawn of the computer and Internet.
His last picture was a series of age demographic charts that looked obscure. However, after explanation, these graphs showed the phenomenal shift in longevity of the masses over the last 100 years. Schwartz said he believes the advancement of added years for many people is the greatest achievement in the past century.
However, he posed, “Has our greatest accomplishment (Longevity) turned into one of our greatest burdens?
“Medicine has helped us live longer, but what about our quality of life?” Schwartz asked the crowd, whose average age, according to several residents, was 92.
Schwartz pointed out that in the year 1900, life expectancy in the United States was age 47, with the leading causes of death listed as communicable disease such as infection, tuberculosis and influenza. He said improvements in medicine, technology and sanitation have raised life expectancy to age 78 (in 2010), with non-communicable disease such as: heart disease, cancer and stroke the primary causes of death.
Among the aging drawbacks outlined in his discussion were aches, pains, memory loss, strains on finances and inadequate retirement savings. Several audience members cited other difficulties — the loss of close friends, family members or a spouse, and the loss of one’s independence, sense of purpose and health.
Sadie Berelowitz, who arranged the lecture, said many residents of Pacific Regent would probably be living alone in an apartment or home waiting for someone to call or visit, but instead they are part of a vibrant community where there is freedom and the ability to do all sorts of things.
Schwartz assured the audience that a positive attitude is critically important to aging successfully, adding that he believes the secrets to living beyond 100 years are to move naturally, have a sense of purpose, know how to relax, meditate, and only eat until you’re 80 percent full.
He urged the group to consume more plants, fruits, vegetables and even wine; to have a religious affiliation; put their family and friends first, and associate with people who share their values.
Looking to the future of aging, Schwartz said medicine is becoming more personalized and based on an individual’s DNA. Smartphones, 3-D printing, vaccines, nutrition, and more targeted and accurate surgeries performed by robots could stretch human longevity into the 120-year range. Google’s driverless car and smart housing will allow people to live independently like never before, “a huge game changer,” he said.
After the discussion, resident Ricki Polisar said the talk touched many and gave them something to think about moving forward. “He was very optimistic and did not paint a glum picture about aging,” she said. “He didn’t tell us about all of the things that we can’t do. Instead, he painted a good picture of all the good things that can happen, which I enjoyed very much.”
Resident Betty Miller said she was inspired enough by what she heard to return to volunteering for good causes. “Up until the time I moved into Pacific Regent, I always did volunteer work, but I’ve just let it go,” she said. “It’s easy to just sit here and do whatever you want and not give back to the community. I spend a lot of time reading, but that’s not helping anybody else and helping others is what I feel I need to do.”
Nathan Zechter said he is excited, enthused and energized just being with people who have achieved things and continue to want to grow and enjoy life to the fullest. “The discussion was very stimulating and thought-provoking, challenging all of us to contribute to the future,” he said.
Schwartz concluded with the proposition that a society with a population of elders who are stagnant is cause for concern, but creating a generation of elders in the 21st century who give back, volunteer and expose their talents could lead to living in a time that’s better than any other era humanity has ever seen. “I encourage younger people to work inter-generationally with older people to create wonderful solutions to real problems and in doing so, change the perception of what seniors can do,” he said.