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Vocabulary > Life / Health > Aging, Growing old / Getting older, Older people > Centenarians




Wilfred Talbot, Bath

The Guardian        G2        pp. 12-13        18 January 2006


Life at 100

In the 60s,

fewer than 300 people in Britain had reached the age of 100.


Today, there are more than 6,000,

a number expected to swell to 40,000 in three decades' time.

But what is it like to have lived a life that spans a century?


Stephen Moss sought out eight centenarians to ask them


The Guardian        G2        Wednesday January 18, 2006



















 Black and white photography


Alexander Imich, a Polish immigrant,

belatedly celebrated his 111th birthday at home

on the Upper West Side last week.


Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times


An Ever-Curious Spirit, Unbeaten After 111 Years

By RALPH BLUMENTHAL        NYT        MAY 4, 2014


Related > Obituary





 Colour photography


 Alexander Imich with Trish Corbett on April 30.

“I never thought I’d be that old,”

he said of his record-setting longevity.


Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times


World’s Oldest Man, Though Only Briefly, Dies at 111 in New York

By RALPH BLUMENTHAL        NYT        JUNE 9, 2014


















100 and She Just Won't Stop

She is a national champion,

a former activist and a centenarian. And she runs.

NYT        By NOAH REMNICK and ERICA BERENSTEIN        Apr. 22, 2016















centenarian        UK
















centenarian        USA













turn 100        USA








at 100        UK






101        USA







102        USA






at 106







at 107        USA








“I’m one-oh-seven.”        USA






Britain's oldest person, Gladys Hooper, dies aged 113        UK        2016





Susannah Mushatt Jones,

who was believed

to be the world's oldest person at 116, (dies in New York)        USA        2016






World’s Oldest Man, Though Only Briefly,

Dies at 111 in New York        USA        2014






the oldest man on earth

Alexander Imich, 111 ¼ years old        USA        2014






USA > Fred Hale (1890-2004), the world's oldest man        UK






the oldest man in the world

Henry Allingham        2009






Arbella Perkins Ewings        USA        1894-2008






The oldest person in the world

Elizabeth Bolden        2006






the oldest person in Britain





USA > World's oldest man dies at 114        UK        2011


Walter Breuning was born in 1896

and put his longevity down

to eating just two meals a day

and working for as long as he could






USA > World's oldest person, Edna Parker, dies at 115        USA        2008











Life Goes On, and On ...


December 17, 2011

The New York Times



A FRIEND calls from her car: “I’m on my way to Cape Cod to scatter my mother’s ashes in the bay, her favorite place.” Another, encountered on the street, mournfully reports that he’s just “planted” his mother. A third e-mails news of her mother’s death with a haunting phrase: “the sledgehammer of fatality.” It feels strange. Why are so many of our mothers dying all at once?

As an actuarial phenomenon, the reason isn’t hard to grasp. My friends are in their 60s now, some creeping up on 70; their mothers are in their 80s or 90s. Ray Kurzweil, the author of “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,” believes that we’re close to unlocking the key to immortality. Perhaps within this century, he prophesies, “software-based humans” will be able to survive indefinitely on the Web, “projecting bodies whenever they need or want them, including virtual bodies in diverse realms of virtual reality.” Neat, huh? But for now, it’s pretty much dust to dust, the way it’s always been — mothers included. (Most of our fathers are long gone, alas. Women live longer than men.)

It’s the ones who aren’t dead who should baffle us. My own mother, for instance, still goes to the Boston Symphony and attends a weekly current events class at Brookhaven, her “lifecare living” center (can’t we find a less technocratic word?) near Boston. She writes poems in iambic pentameter for every occasion. At 94, she’s hardly anomalous: there are plenty of nonagenarians at Brookhaven. Ninety is the new old age. As Dr. Muriel Gillick, a specialist in geriatrics and palliative care at Harvard Medical School, says, “If you’ve made it to 85 then you have a reasonable chance of making it to 90.” That number has nearly tripled in the last 30 years. And if you get that far... it’s been estimated that there will be eight million centenarians by 2050.

It won’t end there. Scientists are closing in on the mechanism of what are called “senescent cells,” which cause the tissue deterioration responsible for aging. Studies of mice suggest that targeting these cells can slow down the process. “Every component of cells gets damaged with age,” Leonard Guarente, a biology professor at M.I.T., explained to me. “It’s like an old car. You have to repair it.” We’re not talking about immortality, Professor Guarente cautions. Biotechnology has its limits. “We’re just extending the trend.” Extending the trend? I can hear it now: 110 is the new 100.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? On the debit side, there’s the ... debit. The old-age safety net is already frayed. According to some estimates, Social Security benefits will run out by 2037; Medicare insurance is guaranteed only through 2024. These projected shortfalls are in part the unintended consequence of the American health fetish. The ad executives in “Mad Men” firing up Lucky Strikes and dosing themselves with Canadian Club didn’t have to worry. They’d be dead long before it was time to collect.

Then there’s the question of whether reaching 5 score and 10 is worth it — the quality-of-life question. Who wants to end up — as Jaques intones in “As You Like It” — “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”? You may live to be as old as Methuselah, who lasted 969 years, but chances are you’ll feel it.

Worse — it’s no longer a rare event — you can outlive your children. Reading the obituary of Christopher Ma, a Washington Post executive who had been a college classmate of mine, I was especially sad to see that Chris was survived by his wife, a daughter, a son, a brother, two sisters and “his mother, Margaret Ma of Menlo Park, Calif.” Can anything more tragic befall a parent than to be predeceased by a child?

These are the perils old people suffer. What about us, the boomers, now ourselves elderly children? One challenge my entitled generation faces is that many of our long-lived parents are running through their retirement money, which leaves the burden of supporting them to us. (To their credit, it’s a burden that often bothers our parents, too.) And the cost of end-stage health care is huge — a giant portion of all medical expenses in this country are incurred in the last months of life. Meanwhile, our prospects of retirement recede on the horizon.

Also, elder care is stressful and time consuming. The broken hips, the trips to the E.R., the bill paying and insurance paperwork demand patience. A paper titled “Personality Traits of Centenarians’ Offspring” suggests this cohort scores high marks “extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.” But even the well-adjusted find looking after old parents tough.

In the mid-’80s, when the idea of the “sandwich generation” was born — boomers saddled with the care of aging parents while raising their own children — it seemed like a problem we would eventually outgrow. Twenty-five years later, we’re still sandwiched, and some of those caught in the middle feel the squeeze.

So what’s the good part? Time spent with an elderly parent can offer an opportunity for the resolution of “unfinished business,” a chance to indulge in last-act candor. A college classmate writes in our 40th-reunion book of ministering to her chronically ill mother and being “moved by how the twists and turns of complicated health care have deepened our relationship.” I hear a lot about late-in-life bonding between parent and child.

My mother needs a minor operation. “I’ve outlasted my time,” she says as she’s wheeled into surgery. “Anyway, you’re too old to have a mother.” Thanks, Ma. What about Rupert Murdoch? His mother is 102. Also, if I’m too old to have a mother, why do I still feel like a child?

Two weeks later, Mom comes to Vermont to recuperate. My father, who died a decade ago at 87, is buried in the field behind our house (hope this is legal). His gravestone reads “Donald Herman Atlas 1913-2001,” and it has an epitaph from his favorite poet, T. S. Eliot, carved in italics: “I grow old ... I grow old .../ I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” Mom likes to visit him there. Standing over Dad’s grave, she carries on a dialogue of one. “I thought I’d have joined you by now, Donny, but I’m a tough old bird.” As she heads back up to the house, she turns and waves. “À bientôt.” See you soon.

Not so fast, Mom. I still have issues.


James Atlas is the author

of “My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor’s Tale.”

Life Goes On, and On ...,
NYT, 17.12.2011,






Paying for Old Age


February 25, 2011

The New York Times




LIFE expectancy at birth for Americans is about 78. But many Americans will die well before then, while others, like Eunice Sanborn, who died in Texas last month, will live to be 114.

Anyone planning for retirement must answer an impossible question: How long will I live? If you overestimate your longevity, you might scrimp unnecessarily. If you underestimate, you might outlive your savings.

This is hardly a new problem — and yet not a single financial product offers a satisfactory solution to this risk.

We believe that a new product — a federally issued, inflation-adjusted annuity — would make it possible for people to deal with this problem, with the bonus of contributing to the public coffers. By doing good for individuals, the federal government could actually do well for itself.

The insurance industry sells an inflation-adjusted annuity that goes part of the way toward helping people cope with the possibility of outliving their savings. During your working years or at the time of retirement, you can pay a premium to an insurance company in exchange for the promise that the company will pay you a fixed annual income, adjusted for inflation, until you die.

But in a world in which A.I.G. had an excellent rating only days before it became a ward of the state, how can someone — particularly a young person — know for sure which insurance companies will be solvent half a century from now? Annuities aren’t federally guaranteed. The only backstops are state-based systems, and the current protection ceilings are sometimes modest. If an insurance company goes under, the retiree may end up with nothing close to what was promised.

The federal government can offer a product that solves that problem. Individuals would face no more risk of default than that associated with Treasury bills and other obligations backed by the United States.

Here’s how it would work. Initially, people who wanted to buy this insurance would enroll through one of the qualified retirement savings plans already offered to the public, like a 401(k) plan, and could choose this annuity option instead of, or in addition to, investments in stocks, bonds or mutual funds.

How much the payouts would be could be based on a variety of factors, including interest rates on government bonds; mortality tables that, among other things, take into account that healthier people are more likely to buy annuities; and administrative costs. This new product wouldn’t cost the government a penny. In fact, the Treasury would benefit. It is only an incremental move beyond issuing inflation-adjusted bonds, which the Treasury already does. By allowing the government to tap a new class of investors, the cost of government borrowing over all would probably drop.

Moreover, by expanding the government’s base of domestic investors, the plan would help address overreliance on foreign lenders, who now own close to half of all outstanding federal debt — nearly 10 times the proportion in 1970. True, the government would be on the hook if a technological breakthrough caused an unanticipated increase in life expectancy. But that’s a risk that the government is already bearing implicitly: that is, a drastic enough increase could threaten the solvency of private issuers of annuities as well as the many retirees who don’t have annuities, creating pressure for government bailouts of insurers or individuals. Taking on the risk explicitly and pricing the fair cost of this risk into the annuities is a far preferable route.

There is also the concern that government-issued annuities would crowd out private annuity sales. To the contrary: they could spur growth in private annuities. Since the inflation-adjusted monthly payments on such risk-free government annuities would be low, many retirees may choose to supplement them with riskier, higher-paying annuities.

Furthermore, insurance companies could be allowed to package the government-issued annuities with their own products, creating appealing combinations that mix safety and the potential for higher returns.

Our proposal is a winner for everyone. The Treasury could lower borrowing costs and diversify its investor base while acknowledging and budgeting for risk that it already bears. Individuals could eliminate the risk of living too long. By looking at the promised rate of return on the annuities, individuals will have a better sense of how much they need to save. The Eunice Sanborns of the world, as well as all taxpayers, would rest a little easier at night.


Henry T. C. Hu is a professor

at the University of Texas School of Law.

Terrance Odean is a finance professor

at the University of California at Berkeley.

Paying for Old Age,






Real Life Among the Old Old


December 30, 2010

The New York Times



I RECENTLY turned 65, just ahead of the millions in the baby boom generation who will begin to cross the same symbolically fraught threshold in the new year to a chorus of well-intended assurances that “age is just a number.” But my family album tells a different story. I am descended from a long line of women who lived into their 90s, and their last years suggest that my generation’s vision of an ageless old age bears about as much resemblance to real old age as our earlier idealization of painless childbirth without drugs did to real labor.

In the album is a snapshot of my mother and me, smiling in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree when she was 75 and I was 50. She did seem ageless just 15 years ago. But now, as she prepares to turn 90 next week, she knows there will be no more holiday adventures in her future. Her mind is as acute as ever, but her body has failed. Chronic pain from a variety of age-related illnesses has turned the smallest errand into an excruciating effort.

On the next page is a photograph of my maternal grandmother and me, taken on a riverbank in 1998, a few months short of her 100th birthday. For one sunny afternoon, I had spirited her away from the nursing home where she spent the last three years of her life, largely confined to a wheelchair, with a bright mind — like my mother’s today — trapped in a body that would no longer do her bidding.

“It’s good to be among the living again,” Gran said, in a tone conveying not self-pity but her own realistic assessment that she had lived too long to live well.

Yet people my age and younger still pretend that old age will yield to what has long been our generational credo — that we can transform ourselves endlessly, even undo reality, if only we live right. “Age-defying” is a modifier that figures prominently in advertisements for everything from vitamins and beauty products to services for the most frail among the “old old,” as demographers classify those over 85. You haven’t experienced cognitive dissonance until you receive a brochure encouraging you to spend thousands of dollars a year for long-term care insurance as you prepare to “defy” old age.

“Deny” is the word the hucksters of longevity should be using. Nearly half of the old old — the fastest-growing segment of the over-65 population — will spend some time in a nursing home before they die, as a result of mental or physical disability.

Members of the “forever young” generation — who, unless a social catastrophe intervenes, will live even longer than their parents — prefer to think about aging as a controllable experience. Researchers who were part of a panel discussion titled “90 Is the New 50,” presented at the World Science Festival in 2008, spoke to a middle-aged, standing-room-only audience about imminent medical miracles. The one voice of caution about inflated expectations was that of Robert Butler, the pioneering gerontologist who was the first head of the National Institute on Aging in the 1970s and is generally credited with coining the term “ageism.”

Earlier this year, a few months before his death from leukemia at age 83, I asked Dr. Butler what he thought of the premise that 90 might become the new 50. “I’m a scientist,” he replied, “and a scientist always hopes for the big breakthrough. The trouble with expecting 90 to become the new 50 is it can stop rational discussion — on a societal as well as individual level — about how to make 90 a better 90. This fantasy is a lot like waiting for Prince Charming, in that it doesn’t distinguish between hope and reasonable expectation.”

The crucial nature of this distinction has become foremost in my thinking about what lies ahead.

My hope is that I will not live as long as my mother and grandmother. We all want to be the exceptions: Elliott Carter, an active composer when he walked onto the stage of Carnegie Hall for his centennial tribute in 2008; Betty White, a bravura comedian who wows audiences at 88; John Paul Stevens, the author of brilliant judicial opinions until the day he retired from the Supreme Court at 90. I, too, hope to go on being productive, writing long after the age when most people retire, in the twilight of the print culture that has nourished my life. Yet it is sobering for me — as it is for Americans in many businesses and professions that once seemed a sure thing — to see younger near contemporaries being downsized out of jobs long before they are emotionally or financially ready for retirement.

Furthermore, I am acutely aware — and this is the difference between hope and expectation — that my plans depend, above all, on whether I am lucky enough to retain a working brain. I haven’t mentioned, because I don’t like to think about it, that my paternal grandmother, who also lived into her 90s, died of Alzheimer’s disease. The risk of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is the leading cause, doubles every five years after 65.

Contrary to what the baby boom generation prefers to believe, there is almost no scientifically reliable evidence that “living right” — whether that means exercising, eating a nutritious diet or continuing to work hard — significantly delays or prevents Alzheimer’s. This was the undeniable and undefiable conclusion in April of a major scientific review sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

Good health habits and strenuous intellectual effort are beneficial in themselves, but they will not protect us from a silent, genetically influenced disaster that might already be unfolding in our brains. I do not have the slightest interest in those new brain scans or spinal fluid tests that can identify early-stage Alzheimer’s. What is the point of knowing that you’re doomed if there is no effective treatment or cure? As for imminent medical miracles, the most realistic hope is that any breakthrough will benefit the children or grandchildren of my generation, not me.

I would rather share the fate of my maternal forebears — old old age with an intact mind in a ravaged body — than the fate of my other grandmother. But the cosmos is indifferent to my preferences, and it is chilling to think about becoming helpless in a society that affords only the most minimal support for those who can no longer care for themselves. So I must plan, as best I can, for the unthinkable.

I have no children — a much more common phenomenon among boomers than among old people today. The man who was the love of my adult life died several years ago; now I must find someone else I trust to make medical decisions for me if I cannot make them myself. This is a difficult emotional task, and it does not surprise me, for all of the public debate about end-of-life care in recent years, that only 30 percent of Americans have living wills. Even fewer have actually appointed a legal representative, known as a health care proxy, to make life-and-death decisions.

I can see that the “90 is the new 50” crowd might object to my thinking more about worst-case scenarios than best-case ones. But if the best-case scenario emerges and I become one of those exceptional “ageless” old people so lauded by the media, I won’t have a problem. I can also take it if fate hands me a passionate late-in-life love affair, a financial bonanza or the energy to write more books in the next 25 years than I have in the past 25.

What I expect, though — if I do live as long as the other women in my family — is nothing less than an unremitting struggle, ideally laced with moments of grace. On that day by the riverbank — the last time we saw each other — Gran cast a lingering glance over the water and said, “It’s good to know that the beauty of the world will go on without me.”

If I can say that, in full knowledge of my rapidly approaching extinction, I will consider my life a success — even though I will have failed, as everyone ultimately does, to defy old age.


Susan Jacoby is the author,

most recently, of the forthcoming

“Never Say Die:

The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age.”

    Real Life Among the Old Old, NYT, 30.12.2010,






UK war veteran

becomes oldest man in the world

at 113

Death of Japanese titleholder
puts Britain's Henry Allingham
into the record books


Maev Kennedy
Friday 19 June 2009
14.52 BST
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk
at 14.52 BST on Friday 19 June 2009.
It was last updated at 15.09 BST
on Friday 19 June 2009.

At the age of 113 Henry Allingham, the oldest surviving veteran of the first world war, has officially been proclaimed the oldest man alive by Guinness World Records, after the death today of Tomoji Tanabe in Japan.

His friend Denis Goodwin, a founder of the First World War Veterans Association, who has escorted Allingham to innumerable parades, memorial services and presentations, said: "It's staggering. He will take it in his stride, like he does everything else. He withdraws in himself and he chews it over like he does all the things he has done in his life. That's his secret, I think."

At St Dunstan's home for blind ex-service personnel, near Brighton, where Allingham has lived since he finally gave up his Eastbourne flat at the age of 110, chief executive Robert Leader sent sympathy to the family of Tanabe, who died in his sleep, also aged 113. He added: "We are proud to be caring for such a remarkable man. He has just celebrated his 113th birthday, and knowing Henry as I do, he will take the news in his stride."

It is the latest in a series of recent landmarks in the extraordinarily ordinary life of a man who remembers watching WG Grace playing cricket, returned from the hell of the trenches to marriage, and had a long contented career as an engineer. He never spoke of his wartime experiences for most of the 20th century until he was asked to give some talks to school children.

Allingham is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland, the last surviving founding member of the Royal Air Force, the last survivor of the Royal Naval Air Service, and the oldest ever surviving member of any of the British armed forces.

As an engineer on a Sopwith Schneider seaplane, he recalls shells bouncing across the waves in the Battle of Jutland, and he was behind the lines in training and support units at the Western Front in 1917.

Despite an apparently blameless life, he attributes his longevity to "cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women – and a sense of humour". On his 110th birthday, when he was already the oldest man in Britain, his presents included enough whisky to swim in, including a bottle personally presented by Gordon Brown.

He was awarded France's highest honour, the Légion d'honneur in 2003 as a chevalier, upgraded earlier this year to officier.

In the last decade he has joined hundreds of ceremonies marking major anniversaries of the first world war. He joined the march past the Cenotaph every year until 2005. The following year's parade was the first without any veterans of the first world war. But Allingham was not tucked up at home. He was laying a wreath in France.

An honour which particularly pleased him came last December, when the Institute of Civil Engineers presented him with an honorary award as Chartered Engineer and he has since also been awarded an honorary doctorate from Southampton Solent University. Despite a lifetime working in aviation and car engineering – he finally retired from Ford in Dagenham in 1960 – he had no formal qualifications.

    UK war veteran becomes oldest man in the world at 113, G, 19.6.2009,






World's oldest person,

Edna Parker,

dies at 115


November 28, 2008
From Times Online
Hannah Strange


A great-great-grandmother who was the world's oldest person has died at the age of 115.

Indiana woman Edna Parker, who assumed the mantle more than a year ago, passed away on Wednesday at a nursing home in Shelbyville. She was 115 years, 220 days old.

Mrs Parker was born April 20, 1893, in central Indiana and had been recognised by Guinness as the world’s oldest person since the 2007 death of Japan's Yone Minagawa, who was four months her senior.

Dr Stephen Coles, the UCLA gerontologist who maintains a list of the world’s oldest people, said Mrs Parker was the 14th oldest validated super-centenarian in history. Maria de Jesus of Portugal, who was born September 10, 1893, is now the world’s oldest living person, according to the Gerontology Research Group.

Mrs Parker became a widow in 1939 - the year Judy Garland starred in The Wizard of Oz - when her husband, Earl Parker, died of a heart attack. She was 48. She remained alone in their farmhouse until age 100, when she moved into a son’s home and later to the Shelbyville nursing home.

Though she never drank alcohol or smoked and led an active lifestyle, she didn't credit this for her advanced years.

A teacher, her only advice to those who gathered to celebrate when she became the world's oldest person was to get “more education.”

Mrs Parker outlived both her sons, Clifford and Earl Jr. She also had five grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great-grandchildren.

Don Parker, 60, said his grandmother had a small frame and a mild temperament. She walked a lot and kept busy even after moving into the nursing home, he said.

“She kept active,” he said yesterday. “We used to go up there, and she would be pushing other patients in their wheelchairs.”

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who celebrated with Mrs Parker on her 114th birthday, said it had been a "delight" to know her. She must have been a remarkable lady at any age, he added.

Mrs Parker graduated from the state's Franklin College in 1911 and went on to teach in a two-room school for several years.

She married Earl, her childhood sweetheart and neighbour, in 1913.

As was usual at the time, her career came to an end with her marriage and Mrs Parker became a farmer's wife, spending her days tending the home and preparing meals for the dozen men who worked on the farm.

Last year, she noted with pride that she and her husband were one of the first owners of an automobile in their rural area.

Coincidentally, Mrs Parker lived in the same nursing home as Sandy Allen, whom at 7ft 7¼ was officially the world's tallest woman until her death in August.

    World's oldest person, Edna Parker, dies at 115, Ts, 28.11.2008,






In Strangers,

Centenarian Finds Literary Lifeline


August 1, 2008
The New York Times


Stephanie Sandleben, a yoga instructor with tattoos on each shoulder, just finished Chapter 19 of Tina Brown’s biography of Diana, Princess of Wales. Sara Nolan, a 28-year-old graduate student, is 30 pages into a Rumer Godden novel. Mark Kalinowsky, 48 and a real estate broker, has long since stopped reading; he just comes to chat.

These three disparate characters are part of a ragtag crew that cycles through the worn one-bedroom Murray Hill walk-up where Elizabeth Goodyear, who recently celebrated her 101st birthday, is confined after two knee operations. A lifelong lover of books, Ms. Goodyear lost her sight about four years ago, but in its place has acquired a roster of readers who stop by regularly, bringing with them dogs, gifts from their international travels and offerings of dark chocolate, the elixir she has savored daily since she was 3.

“Usually there’s something going on here,” Ms. Goodyear observed the other day during Ms. Sandleben’s weekly visit. “It’s strange. You’d think if you got to be 101, nothing much would happen. But it does.”

It started with a neighbor two generations younger, who once asked Ms. Goodyear to watch her bags while she ran back upstairs to fetch a bow and arrows for a trip to Maine.

As Ms. Goodyear grew more frail, the neighbor, a yoga instructor named Alison West, started stopping by to kiss her goodnight each evening. On learning that Ms. Goodyear had outlived her savings, Ms. West raised money to pay for her rent-controlled apartment and part of her home health aide’s wages. Then, about five years ago, she posted a sign seeking readers at yoga studios downtown and sent out an e-mail message that was forwarded and forwarded again.

“Liz has no family at all, and all her old friends have died, but she remains eternally positive and cheerful and loves to have people come by to read to her or talk about life, politics, travel — or anything else,” the message read. “She also loves good chocolate!”

Reading to the blind or the elderly is hardly novel. In New York City, two well-established programs, Lighthouse International and Visions/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, have hundreds of volunteers who make home visits or read to clients at their offices and in senior centers. The National Federation of the Blind provides a free telephone service through which people can hear articles from more than 200 newspapers and magazines, and the Jewish Guild for the Blind offers a similar program using special radios.

But the casual, organic way in which this particular group came together around Ms. Goodyear is a window into the way New York can be a small town, the way strangers become a community, the way books, reading and, especially, stories bind people together.

“I remember looking forward to seeing you, but also looking forward to hearing what’s happening next in the book,” Ms. Sandleben, the 30-year-old tattooed yoga instructor, told Ms. Goodyear the other day. “I was relieved when you told me that I was the only person reading the story because I didn’t want to miss out on anything.”

Rebecca Feldman was one of the first to visit Ms. Goodyear, and has since married, become a nurse and enrolled in graduate school to become a midwife. “When I first started visiting, I was afraid she’d be dead the next time I came,” said Ms. Feldman, 31, who is eight months pregnant and plans to soon bring a new baby to meet Ms. Goodyear. “When I tell people about her, I say I have this 101-year-old friend. I don’t think of it as volunteering anymore.”

Ms. Goodyear was born in 1907, a premature twin delivered at home in, as she said, “a suburb of Philadelphia whose name I cannot remember.” (Her twin, who weighed just a pound, died within an hour of birth.) On doctor’s orders, she said, she was placed in a bureau drawer with hot water bottles and fed “whiskey and cream” via medicine dropper.

She came to New York in 1928, seeking a stage career, but said that after six months at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, “they told me I had poise, personality and good looks but no acting ability.” Instead, Ms. Goodyear had a variety of jobs, including assisting the lighting director for the New York City Ballet and theater press agents. In between, she wrote or collaborated on 20 plays — including two, “Widow’s Walk” and “The Painted Wagon,” that made it to the stage — and saw many more, the titles of which she ticks off, alphabetically, in her mind to stave off loneliness and boredom.

After a brief marriage and an ectopic pregnancy, Ms. Goodyear moved to the Murray Hill walk-up in 1961, when the rent was $69. “Everything was red,” she said, laughing at the memory of asking a co-worker to repaint for her. “The windowsills, the walls, the hall, the doors, everything.”

She has taken dance lessons from Martha Graham, had drinks with Duke Ellington, spent a couple of hours with George Balanchine and his cats, and accompanied Gypsy Rose Lee, actress and burlesque entertainer, on a game show. One visitor recalled listening to Ms. Goodyear’s stories and then racing home to Google unfamiliar characters.

“I think I only remember the amusing things; I don’t remember any depressing things,” Ms. Goodyear said in an interview. “I think I just put them out of my mind. I know everybody has things that they want to forget, but I don’t even have to forget. I just don’t remember.”

Ms. Goodyear now has an aide from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to help bathe, move and feed her. Her only medications are a monthly shot of vitamin B12 and one daily Tylenol her doctor prescribed because, as she put it, “I guess I have to do something.” Because she can no longer leave her apartment without an ambulette, her doctor makes house calls — once a year.

“He says he has to worry about his younger patients,” Ms. Sandleben said.

Ms. Goodyear may have a glass eye and some teeth missing, but she can recite detailed plotlines from books she read 60 years ago.

A couple of weeks after her 101st birthday, her refrigerator contained five bottles of Champagne and dark chocolate in truffle and bar forms. Birthday cards from her 100th were strung across a wall of the living room, above the plastic-covered table holding the beloved books the volunteers-turned-friends have been reading — many are novels by Rumer Godden, a 20th-century British writer whom Ms. Goodyear adores.

Glamour photos of Ms. Goodyear from the 1920s sit on the television. Four decades of bound copies of Theatre World line the hallway shelves. In Ms. Goodyear’s bedroom are a hospital bed and a couple of stuffed dogs. A “Do Not Resuscitate” sign is posted by the front door.

Ms. Nolan, the graduate student, started visiting Ms. Goodyear two years ago, but since moving to Colorado last August to study poetry, she calls once a week and reads to her over the phone.

Mr. Kalinowsky, the real estate broker, said he also began visiting Ms. Goodyear two years ago, after both his father and his grandmother died, because he missed being close to people from other generations.

Ms. Sandleben brings Ms. Goodyear chocolates from Costa Rica, Zurich, SoHo. And when she was away in Arizona on Ms. Goodyear’s most recent birthday, she got her whole family on the phone to sing to her.

“I don’t know how I ever managed to do it,” Ms. Goodyear said of her numerous friendships.

“You hook them in,” Ms. Sandleben teased.

“They come,” Ms. Goodyear responded, “and for some reason, they always come back.”

    In Strangers, Centenarian Finds Literary Lifeline, NYT, 1.8.2008,






The age revolution:

How to live to be 150

Experts believe that the first person to live half way
through their second century has already been born.
Jeremy Laurance, health editor,
reports on the stunning breakthroughs that science promises,
while Sarah Harris outlines 10 ways to extend your life


Published: 07 January 2007

The Independent on Sunday


For today's centenarians, living to be 100 is an achievement marked by a message from the Queen. Within two generations it could be as routine as collecting a bus pass.

The first person to live to 150 may already have been born, according to some scientists. Worldwide, life expectancy has more than doubled over the past 200 years and recent research suggests it has yet to reach a peak.

What will the world be like when people live long enough to see their great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren? Extending life by adding extra years of sickness and growing frailty holds little appeal. Increased longevity is one of the modern world's great successes, but long life without health is an empty prize. The aim is for humans to die young - as late as possible.

It is eight years since Jeanne Calment died peacefully in a nursing home in Arles, southern France in 1998. She was aged 122 years, five months and 14 days - and no one has yet challenged her title as the oldest person with an authenticated birth record to have lived. She attributed her longevity to a diet rich in olive oil, regular glasses of port and her ability to "keep smiling".

Destiny undoubtedly played a part, too. If you want to grow old, choose your parents carefully. The genetic determinants of long life are gradually being unravelled, In recent years at least 10 gene mutations have been identified that extend the lifespan of mice by up to half. The good news is that these super-geriatric mice are no more frail or sickly than their younger brethren.

In humans, several genetic variants have been linked with longevity. They include a family of genes dubbed the Sirtuins, which one Italian study found occurred more commonly in centenarian men than in the general population. Researchers at Harvard Medical School in the US, convinced they have discovered a "longevity gene", are now studying whether adding an extra copy of the gene extends the lives of mice. The long term aim is to find a way of manipulating the genes to add an extra decade or two to the human lifespan.

Other gene variants affect the production of growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF), both of which increase metabolism - organisms with higher metabolism tend to die sooner. Blocking receptors for growth hormone and IGF, so slowing metabolism, provide possible targets for anti-ageing drugs.

Also promising, but still far from yielding concrete results, are telomeres, which are present in every cell. Telomeres shorten with every cell division, like a burning fuse; when they can shorten no more, the cell dies. Inhibiting the enzyme telomerase to prevent the shortening of the telomeres in effect extends the lifespan of the cell, and, as we are comprised of millions of cells, could extend life.

Ageing cannot be reversed but it may, perhaps, be delayed. The emergence of the extremely old population has only happened in the past 50 years and is chiefly due to improvements in the health, lifestyle and environment of the elderly that started in the 1950s - how we eat and drink, where we live, what we do.

Ageing is an irresistible target for snake oil salesmen and the pharmaceutical industry. Several hundred medical compounds that can boost memory and learning ability are being investigated. Research teams are examining genes for Alzheimer's disease, mechanisms that cause cells to age and die, and brain interfaces that promise to pump new life into aged or diseased limbs. The aim here is to add life to years, as well as years to life, but ageing itself is taking over as the new target for therapeutic innovation.

One promising avenue of research is to increase the resistance of cells to the stresses caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that disrupt cellular processes. There is no evidence that the sort of anti-ageing compounds sold over the internet containing anti-oxidants that promise to tackle free radicals actually slow ageing. However, delivering antioxidant enzymes direct to the cell has been shown in mice to extend lifespan by 20 per cent - pointing the way to future research.

But the optimism comes with a warning - that the consistent increase in life expectancy we have enjoyed for the past 200 years could be about to go into reverse. Some Jeremiahs in the scientific community claim ours could be the first generation in which parents outlive their children. The greatest enemy of extending life further is growing obesity, they say. Its effects could rapidly approach and exceed those of heart disease and cancer. Calculations by US scientists suggest that life expectancy would already be up to a year longer but for obesity. As Jeannne Calment indicated, wisely if unexcitingly, on her 122nd birthday, those who live moderately live long.




Ten things you can do to help increase your life expectancy


Exercise regularly

Keeping fit is the elixir of youth. Even 30 minutes of regular gentle exercise three times per week, such as walking or swimming, can add years to your life expectancy.

Aerobic exercise preserves the heart, lungs and brain, elevates your mood, can help ward off breast and colon cancer and prevent atrophy of the muscles and bones.

Gareth Jones of the Canadian Centre for Activity and Ageing in London, found that for an over-50 who has never taken part in physical activity a brisk 30-minute walk three times a week can "basically reverse your physiological age by about 10 years." Not exercising can knock off five years.

A 1986 study at Stanford University found that death rates fell in direct proportion to the number of calories burned weekly.

Live dangerously

Mild sunburn, a glass of wine and some low-level radiation sounds like a recipe for disaster, but many researchers believe that small doses of "stressors" can reverse the ageing process.

While this "hormeosis", is not a licence to lie on a hot beach all day swigging vodka, mild exposure to certain harmful agents can trigger the body's natural repair mechanisms. The body is tricked into producing particular DNA-repair enzymes and heat shock proteins to fix the damage that has been caused. Sometimes the body's repair mechanisms overcompensate, treating unrelated damage - "rejuvenating" as well as repairing it. Hormeosis could stretch the average healthy life span to 90.

Live in a good area

It is not only how you live, but where you live that matters - and the residents of Okinawa in Japan seem to know the secret. These Japanese islands are home to the world's largest population of centenarians.

At 103, the daily routine of resident Seiryu Toguchi included stretching exercises, a diet of whole grain rice and vegetables, gardening and playing his three-stringed instrument, the sanshin.

The clean-living Seventh Day Adventists of Utah also do pretty well, living on average eight years longer than their fellow Americans.

Worst off are those living in poor, polluted urban areas such as Glasgow, where residents of the poorest suburbs have a life expectancy of only 54. Overcrowding, dirt and noise all contribute to high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, which reduce lifespan.

Be very successful

The more rich, privileged, successful and educated you are, the longer you will live. The Whitehall Studies, 1967-77, examined the health of male civil servants between the ages of 20 and 64, and found that men in the lowest-paid positions had a mortality rate three times higher than those at the top level.

The study proved that the more important a task a person is asked to perform, the longer they are likely to live; that the person at the top with the big office, shouting orders will have a more relaxed and pleasurable existence than his frustrated underlings. And it's not only civil servants: Canadian researchers found that Oscar-winners live longer than other actors because of am increased sense of self-worth and confidence.

And if you can't manage an Oscar, then only one extra year in education could increase your life expectancy by a year and a half.

Eat the right foods

Certain foods delay the ageing process and may increase life expectancy. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli are rich in antioxidants and beta-carotene. Diets high in fruit, vegetables, fibre and omega-3 oils, and low in fat may prevent high blood pressure and heart disease.

In their low-fat diet of fruit, vegetables and rice, the long-living people of Okinawa also consume more soy than anyone on earth, and soy is linked to low cancer rates. Eating cooked tomato daily can slash your risk of heart disease by 30 per cent, found research at Harvard.

Challenge yourself

An active mind is as important as an active body. Studies show that you can boost your immune system and delay the onset of conditions from depression to dementia by keeping your brain engaged and stimulated.

Leonard Poon, director of the University of Georgia Gerontology Center found that people who reach three figures tend to have a high level of cognition, demonstrating skill in everyday problem-solving and learning. And Marian Diamond of the University of California, Berkley, found that rodents who were given problems to solve and toys to play with, lived 50 per cent longer.

Enjoy your life

Good relationships are the key to longevity. Social contact staves off depression, stress and boosts the development of the brain and immune system.

Most research shows that people with family, friends, partners or pets, live longer than those who don't. Marriage is also a good idea if you want to meet the 100-mark, adding an average of seven years to the life of a man, and two to a woman.

Indulgence, too, can be good for you. Chocolate can enhance endorphin levels and acts as a natural antidepressant, wine contains natural anti-oxidants, and laughing is good for your immunity.

Find God - or friends

It's official: having religion pays off - and not just in the after-life.

Nearly 1,000 studies have indicated that those who go to a place of worship are healthier than their faithless counterparts - and live an average seven years longer. One in 10 of the nuns of the convent of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Minnesota have managed to reach their 100th birthday. But atheists should not despair: experts believe that a sense of community, and of belief in something larger than yourself, are vital ingredients in a long and happy life.

Jeff Levin, author of God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection, argues that a place of worship provides a social network and a source of comfort to the ageing, ill and needy.

Reduce your calories

One hundred years of hunger is what you can look forward to if you follow the Calorie Restriction philosophy. Practitioners of CR believe that by reducing your calorie intake (by between 10 and 60 per cent) you can extend life expectancy by lowering your metabolism and the production of harmful free radicals. It sounds like torture, but there is research to suggest that it works.

One study reported that participants who ate 25 per cent less for three months had lower levels of insulin in their blood, a reduced body temperature and less DNA damage. Brian Delaney, president of the California-based Calorie Restriction Society, is aiming to live to 122, and with a diet of barely 1,800 calories per day (2,500 is the normal for men).

Get your health checked

To last a century, stay ahead of life-threatening illnesses. It is possible with regular blood tests to detect the first signs of prostate cancer, one of the commonest causes of cancer deaths in men over 85.

If you're between 60 and 69 you can have free bowel cancer screening, cervical screening for women aged 24 to 64, and mammograms for women aged 50 to 70. Figures show that 95 per cent of women who had invasive breast cancer detected by screening are alive five years later.

The age revolution: How to live to be 150,






In Mystery of Reaching 104,

Mrs. Astor Is a Case Study


August 3, 2006

The New York Times



One startling truth stands out among the accusations about the care of Brooke Astor in her old age: Mrs. Astor is not simply old, she is 104. That makes her a member of a most exclusive club, the exceptionally long lived. Route to admission? Mysterious. Benefits of membership? A blessing, though possibly a curse as well.

Mrs. Astor, the philanthropist and socialite, took her Dubonnet in moderation, practiced yoga, gave up smoking a lifetime ago. She swam laps all winter, walked with her dogs, had flocks of friends. She was disciplined, curious, flirtatious. She had a mission. She was resilient. She never let herself, she said, become depressed.

“It didn’t matter if we were at her apartment or the Knickerbocker or the Four Seasons,” said Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair and a frequent lunch companion of Mrs. Astor’s. “She would order a club sandwich or fish and a tall Campari and soda, which she would drink about a quarter of.”

She was always reading, Mr. Carter said, two books at a time.

Mrs. Astor also comes from a long-lived lineage. Her mother, Mabel H. Howard Russell, died at 88; her father, Maj. Gen. John Henry Russell, died at 74. Both grew up at a time when average life expectancy was in the 40’s. A grandfather, Rear Adm. John Henry Russell, born when John Quincy Adams was president, died at 69.

People who study exceptional longevity — the state of living to 100 or beyond — say factors like diet, exercise, health habits, social support and the ability to find meaning in life appear to play a role in getting people to, say, 85. But, some of them say, they suspect that genes play the dominant role in hitting 100 or above.

“I have no one that was exercising,” said Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who is studying 400 centenarians. “I don’t have vegetarians. Nobody ate yogurt or anything like that. If you have longevity genes, well, lucky you. If you don’t, you know what to do.”

The gift of good genes is not without drawbacks, as the family struggle over the guardianship of Mrs. Astor suggests. The longer a person lives, the more generations take their place in line. Anecdotally, it appears to some that more opportunities arise for squabbling over care, expenses and who stands to inherit what.

“The longer the person lives, the more generations you have to deal with and the more your own future becomes an issue,” said Roberta Satow, a sociologist at Brooklyn College and the author of a book on caring for parents. “We have 70-year-olds taking care of their 90- and 100-year-old parents. Those 70-year-olds are worried about what they’re going to have if they’re spending the money on Mom and Dad.”

In Mrs. Astor’s case, a grandson, Philip Marshall, has gone to court asking that his father, Anthony D. Marshall, be replaced as her guardian. He has accused his father, Mrs. Astor’s only son, of neglect — failing to fill her prescriptions, cutting her staff, removing art, banishing her dogs to the pantry and forcing her to sleep on a couch.

Anthony Marshall, 82, a Broadway producer and former diplomat, has said the charges are untrue. He has said he has always taken good care of his mother, overseeing annual expenditures of more than $2.5 million “for her care and comfort alone.” He said she has a staff of eight to provide her with whatever she needs.

There is no up-to-date count of centenarians in New York City. But, according to the 2000 census, there were 1,253 women age 100 to 104 in the city at that time, and 104 women age 105 to 109. The numbers of men over 100 were slightly lower.

Why some people live to those ages is unclear, researchers say.

Ronald D. Adelman, co-chief of geriatrics at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in Manhattan, whose mother recently won a golf tournament at 91, believes the answer is a mix of genes and factors like diet, exercise, social networks and ability to handle stress.

But Dr. Barzilai, a professor of medicine and molecular genetics, said the answer might lie in mutations in three genes that have a role in cholesterol and lipoproteins.

“I have a 104-year-old lady who’s been smoking for 95 years,” he said. “Her response is, ‘Every doctor who told me to stop is now dead.’ ”

Mrs. Astor’s life has not been free of adversity. Her first marriage was unhappy; her second husband died in her arms. Her third husband, Vincent Astor, died five and a half years into their marriage, but left her with $62 million along with another $60 million for charity, which she helped parlay into $195 million and gave away over a 40-year period.

She ran the foundation into her late 90’s and remained a fixture on the social scene. “She had the zest for life and the zest for people,” said John Fairchild, a retired publisher of Women’s Wear Daily and a close friend. “She used to drink, I remember, a watered-down Scotch. Nothing was ever in excess. She’s a wonderful flirt. It kept her young.’’

Elizabeth Corbett, who worked as a dressmaker for Mrs. Astor, said Mrs. Astor used to advise her to take a vacation: “She said, ‘Elizabeth, you have to get to the shore, you have to get to the mountains, you have to get to four different places to stay alive. You have to refresh the body and the mind.’ ”

And did Miss Corbett take the advice? “Of course not,” she said. “I didn’t have the money or the time.”

In Mystery of Reaching 104, Mrs. Astor Is a Case Study,










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