Characteristics of People Who Live Beyond 90

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Nonagenarians, that is, the people in their nineties, are adaptive, creative, and rather self sufficient.  They survive even the survivors. Professor Dunbar of Columbia University studied people in their nineties.  He called them "nimble nonagenarians." Dunbar found that nimble nonagenarians don't accept what they hear from others about old age. They are well insulated from negative emotions, such as depression, anxiety, and conflict. They have a strong survival instinct along with a terrific sense of humor.

Psychological adaptability in face of stress may be the chief characteristic of people who make it to the ninetieth birthday and beyond. It includes the ability to bounce back from the setbacks of life, the grief, and the shock of the unexpected.. Perhaps, the "bounce-back-ability" of nonagenarians is higher than that of people who live only up to the normal longevity.

Nonagenarians keep themselves mentally and physically active. This does not mean that that they spend hours and hours doing mental and physical fitness programs, actually, "moderate" rather than an "exhaustive "mental and physical activity characterizes them best. They believe in the saying, "Use it or lose it." Nonusers become old, weak, and infirm faster than users. Lack of physical activity wastes and makes muscles more fragile, weakens the heart and thickens the arteries. 

Not exercising the mental muscle makes the mind dull, concentration poor, memory weaker, and the problem solving ability goes kaput. In many cases, obesity sets in, or depression and anxiety takes hold of the person, accelerating the aging process.  A psychologist Allan Langer carried a fascinating experiment in a nursing home. He gave its elderly residents potted plants to tend, allowed them to make up their own menu and to clean and arrange their own rooms according to their own liking. The health of these seniors improved considerably. From the former passivity, loneliness, and isolation, they became active and felt that they were in control of their lives. 

So if you are one who is retired or ready to hang up the hat and are right now looking intently at the rocking chair, follow a moderate regime of physical and mental activity. Learn something new every day.  Do cross word puzzles, learn a new language, read or listen to a book on tape, get into  gardening, learn crochet, macramé, some new game, some new skill, whatever. Do just about anything you can enjoy. To age well, use your physical and mental ability to the fullest. 

Satisfaction with life and acceptance of change is the hallmark of nonagenarians, They derive pleasure from daily activities. They regard their life inherently meaningful. They feel they have achieved their major goal and live content. They possess an intrinsic sense of self worth. They are optimists. Someone rightly said, "Depressives may be more realistic, but the optimists live longer." 

Nonagenarians, the great survivors, respond creatively to change indicating a high adaptive energy.. They have the capacity to accept and integrate new things in life rather than shutting them out, as opposed to closing their eyes and hiding. They accept events they can't change rather than fight with them in a foolhardy manner. "If you can't fight the enemy, join them." 

There is strong survival instinct, manifest in wanting to live as long as possible. Bryant Gumbel of "Today" says, "It is never wonderful to walk away from a fight but you will live longer if you do." Following the storms, the trees that bend with the wind stand firm in their place looking at the straight and unbending trees that has been broken by the wind. Flexibility is an essential part of adaptability.

If you have a flavor for trivia, here it is. There was no British monarch or royal family member who lived to be hundred years old in the entire one thousand year history of British Royal family. One thousand years is as far as the British Royal Family genealogy could be traced. The record was broken in the twentieth century when a Lord belonging to the royal family died in 1967 at the age of 101 years. Today, in the western society. 1 in 10,000 live up to 100 years or older. I heard that J. C. Penney is honoring the citizens who are 93 years or older. 

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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