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Founded in 1989 by Lynn Peters Adler, J.D.
Centenarian Expert and Older Adults Advocate

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Counting Centenarians: Lynn Adler on “Celebrate 100″

Continued

Who are a few of the more interesting centenarians you’ve met?

I’d like to tell you about some of the remarkable people who are in the book.

Margaret Dunning, age 102, whose father taught her to drive in a Model T Ford when she was eight, is still showing her cream-colored 1930 Packard Model 740 Roadster at auto shows.

There is a fellow named Charles “Cliff” Kayhart, age 101, shown holding his iPad in the book. When he got the iPad he said, “Whatever the next technology is, I’m going to have one of those, too.” I think that this such a life-affirming attitude!

 
Irving Kahn, who was a Wall Street financier, at age 107 was still going to his office every day.
   
And Rosie Ross was a musician who continued to play his trumpet at a regular Friday night gig until he was over 100. He was so full of life and would always pack the house. He lived with a friend who also lived to be 100 and the two of them were like the Odd Couple. It was just wonderful.
 


What have you learned from knowing so many centenarians?

I call centenarians our living links to history. They’ve lived through all of the history we’ve studied. To flesh out a little bit more about, say, the Great Depression, we can listen to their stories. No one knows what they know and no one really knows what it was like except for them – and that is unique and awe-inspiring.

And then there’s also the joie de vivre. If I’m really having a bad day, I call one of my centenarian friends and I feel instantly better. Because I’m thinking, my gosh if Elsa can do that at 101, I should just get over whatever my little deal is.

What can we learn from centenarians about healthy aging?

Early on, when I did my first survey of Arizona centenarians in 1988, I identified the five traits that active centenarians have in common; I call it the Centenarian Spirit. And through my subsequent surveys of centenarians, through two books, through knowing so many centenarians, this list has held up: Love of life, which includes a sense of humor and a healthy dose of self-esteem; positive yet realistic attitude; strong religious or spiritual belief; personal courage; and a remarkable ability to renegotiate life at every turn.

I think the last one in particular is something we can all learn from centenarians.

What does “aging with attitude” mean to you?

There was a wonderful centenarian in California who we asked, “What would your advice be to people as they grow older or to younger generations?”  And he said, “Encapsulate the good memories and let the others go.” Isn’t that beautiful and so simply said?  Another fellow in South Carolina said, “I try to be happy where I’m stopped at.” Between the two of those I think lies the answer.

What can we do to counter ageism in our day-to-day lives?

I don’t think we’re ever going to stop it, but we can mitigate it. The first thing is always awareness, but the important thing is for more of us who become aware to stop doing it, even if we’re doing it unconsciously. It has a ripple effect.

There’s just no place for ageism in our society. There is plenty to go around for all. There’s plenty for those who have contributed so much, and I think we lose sight of the contributions of older people, and I mean 85 and over. How would we like it if in 15, or 20 or 30 years from now we were treated as though our lives or our contributions didn’t matter? If we don’t change it now, we are going to have a rough go of it ourselves when we reach that age.

If we can’t change it, then shame on us.

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