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Do You Want to Live to 100? Here’s What We Heard

An informal survey of boomers finds a mix of enthusiasm and fear

Part of the Transforming Life as We Age Special Report

A recent Time article found that most people (77 percent) want to live to 100. How about you?

Sorry Al Roker and Smuckers, but the odds of actually living that long are against us — in the 2010 Census, only about 53,000 centenarians were living in the United States. Even if the population of centenarians doubles, that’s fewer than 4 people per 10,000 who’ll live to 100.

Still, advances in medical technology are definitely making it easier for people to live longer and longer, and it’s likely that there’ll be well over 100,000 centenarians in the U.S. when the 2020 Census is taken.

What Boomers Said About Living to 100

To find out what boomers think about living to 100, Next Avenue asked some. The results were fascinating, and across the spectrum.

The point at which I need to be fed and helped to go to the bathroom is the point at which I am done.

— Suzi, 53, of Albuquerque

Bill, 50, a hair stylist in Atlanta, said he doesn’t want to live to 100 as things stand now, even though he says he is extremely healthy and fit. “I don’t like the way the world is changing,” he said.

In order for him to want to live to 100, Bill added, “medical care would have to decrease in cost drastically, government would need complete reformation with much less presence in our lives and terrorist groups would have to be gone.”

On the other hand, Greg, 57, of New Hampshire, told Next Avenue that he would like to live to 100. “I enjoy many things about being alive — including my friends, pets, outdoor activities, books, movies, TV, musical performances, food, adult beverages and travel — and would definitely like to experience more of it all. I am often very happy and obviously I want that to continue.”

2 Key Concerns: Health Care and Finances

Access to health care and prospects for personal financial security were two key issues affecting the views about living to 100.

“Even with a body and mind that are younger than my years, I can barely afford the cost of living on Social Security alone now,” said Charlene, 70, of Phoenix. “If I have to look forward to an even more restricted quality of life because I can’t afford a decent place to live, and an ability to have a little money to spend on things I want to do, there is no enjoyment in living.”

Another concern: keeping your mental faculties while living to 100. A few people talked about not wanting to keep living after losing their memory and sense of self and becoming a burden to family members.

Barbara, 67, of Okemos, Mich., wrote that her husband suffers from dementia at 77, the realization of his worst fear. He’d been adamant that he be allowed to end his life when he wanted to — dying with dignity — but because assisted suicide is illegal in Michigan, he can’t. Instead, Barbara said, he may persist in a “near vegetative state for several more years,” incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars in care-related costs.

As a result, said Barbara, “I do not wish to put my family through this anguish yet again if I am stricken with dementia.” She thinks laws against assisted suicide “must be changed!”

Losing mobility and control of bodily functions also came up as fears about living to 100. Said Suzi, 53, of Albuquerque: “The point at which I need to be fed and helped to go to the bathroom is the point at which I am done.”

Wanting to See What the Future Holds

By contrast, some said they want to live to 100 so they could stick around and find out what the future holds.

“I think that if we can survive the problems of our times — with the biggest one being willful ignorance and stupidity — then the 21st century will become an age of miracle and wonder that I’d like very much to see,” said Allen, 58, of Worcester, Mass.

James, 50, of Seattle, echoed that sentiment. “I believe we are on the cusp of paradigm-shifting technological advancements in medicine, biology, energy production and usage and space travel. As a life-long science fiction fan, I would be very excited to see where these advancements can lead us.”

Others crave the possibility of living to 100 because they feel they have personal goals to reach.

“I have too many quilts that I want to make!” said Robin, 67, of Leavenworth, Mass. Charles, 58, a filmmaker and artist in Los Angeles, said he’d like to live to 100 so he could see recognition for his work and have “the opportunity to do more of it.”

A desire to continue learning new things or take on new challenges motivated some, too. “When I retired from the University, I decided that I would begin a new career. Something different, a passion that I could learn as a novice and hopefully become pretty knowledgeable. I vowed that whatever happened, I’d not just SIT,” wrote Polly, 82, of Austin. “I’d advise any older person to think creatively about themselves, and fashion another unique self to enjoy.”

Watching Grandkids Grow Up

And then there are the grandchildren. Being able to see their young ones grow up is the primary reason why several people said they’d like to live to 100. Said Nelda, 58, of Decatur, Ga., “I have always told my son I would live to 112 so I can know my grandchildren, so please don’t wait too long to give them to me.”

Some people we heard from had decidedly mixed feelings. Steve, 56, of San Pedro, Calif., said: “It’s like Paul Robeson sings in Ole Man River, ‘I’m tired of livin’ but I’m scared of dyin’.”

Perhaps it all comes down to one simply philosophy about aging, as expressed by Olivia, 67, of Helotes, Texas: “As an ex-gerontologist I have worked with many geriatric physicians, and through them and my own personal experiences determined that long life is good as long as it is full and appreciated actively.”

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