If you thought retirement planning is hard, you ain't seen
nothing yet. Wait until you get a glimpse of "centenarian
planning." Oooompf! Better pull up a rocking chair.
The good news is that centenarian planning isn't for everyone.
In fact, the odds still are pretty good it's not for you. The
bad news is that if you are one of the vast majority of adults
for whom centenarian planning won't matter, the reason is . .
. do you need this spelled out? You won't live long enough.
On the other hand, population and medical experts report that,
thanks largely to remarkable progress in medicine, health and
education, one undeniable trend in aging today is that more of
us than ever are living past the brittle old age of 100. And
the number of joint-aching centenarians (100 years and older)
is expected to continue increasing dramatically over the next
50 years, so much so that the 1998 United Nations population
estimates and projections for the first time added numbers worldwide
for what it calls "the oldest-old" -- people 80 years
The number of U.S. centenarians today is estimated at
about 70,000, and is expected to increase more rapidly than worldwide
rates over the next 50 years. All of which brings to mind an
image of a 100-year-old Willard Scott on some future "Today"
show sending out birthday greetings on any given morning to dozens
and dozens of centenarians.
After 14 years of studying centenarians, Lynn Peters
Adler has come to recognize what she calls the "Centenarian
Spirit," which includes factors she believes are important
to the longevity of these remarkable elders.
"These are things that everyone can start developing,"
says the founder of the National Centenarian
Awareness Project, and author of the 1995 book "Centenarians:
The Bonus Years" (1995, Health, $25), mentioning a combination
of a positive yet realistic attitude, a love of life, a continued
involvement with others, and a strong spiritual or religious
An extended life span, says Adler, also requires personal
courage and self-determination. "That includes the willingness
to use medical interventions when necessary," she says.
"People have had mastectomies in their eighties or nineties
and still live to 100. But they never think they won't get through
The most important characteristic? "A remarkable ability
to renegotiate life at every turn, to accept the inevitable losses
and changes that come with aging and not let it stop them,"
says Adler, mentioning devastations of living a long life such
as losing one's spouse, illness, even losing one's children.
"Centenarians are not quitters. In their approach to life,
when things go wrong, they roll with the punches and they do
"We need to learn to accept those changes, and make plans
for how we're going to handle them when they happen to us --
so we can keep on going. Because the only secret to living to
100 is surviving your seventies, eighties and nineties. And enjoying
it -- because what's the point of living to 100 if your aren't
going to enjoy it?"