What's Your Plan If You Live to 100?
A survey of centenarians and boomers shows a path for positive aging
How do 100-year-olds feel about hitting the centenarian mark? Their top two answers on a new survey were “blessed” and “happy.” But I like the third most popular response best: “surprised.”
This year, the annual UnitedHealthcare 100@100 Survey also polled boomers who are (or are almost) 65. It turns out most of them don’t expect to live to 100, either.
Yet, we boomers do know that our generation will change the make-up of the country — by 2040, boomers will have tripled the current 85+ population, according to the Census Bureau, and by 2050 there will be 600,000 centenarians, compared to 53,000 today.
Coming to Grips With Our Likely Future
Our sheer numbers beg questions that many of us don’t want to ask, such as: Who will care for us when we’re really old? How will we pay for care? During a recent round of check-in visits I made with nonprofits and government agencies focused on aging, planning for our generation’s future care was a hot topic.
In my Washington, D.C. meetings with the Administration on Aging, National Institute on Aging, Leading Age and The SCAN Foundation, I learned about the challenges of urging individuals to plan. Many of us, the experts say, think we’ll live a healthy, robust life well into our 80s or 90s and then die peacefully in our sleep.
A more likely scenario is that we’ll experience some period of physical or mental decline: years when we need some assistance or even full-time care.
It’s scary to think about that probability, and about needing help. The experts say fear is a huge barrier in getting people to set aside money and talk to their loved ones about how they might want to live.
As a society, too, we seem stuck — knowing boomers will have lots of needs, but not quite sure which public policies and networks of care to put in place in order to address them.
How 100-Year-Olds Feel About Their Lives
However we resolve the issue of our future care, we can take heart in the positive outlooks of the 100-year-olds in the UnitedHealthcare poll.
Those who have made it that far feel good about their lives, crediting attitude and physical health equally. They're grateful for relationships, saying the best thing about their unexpected extra years is having more time to spend with family and friends.
A few other points from the survey of 104 100-year-olds and 300 boomers:
- Most centenarians feel 20 years younger than they are. The boomers surveyed felt about 10 years younger.
- A third of the 100-year-olds do strength training once a week.
- Almost a third say getting married was the most memorable event of their lives. Boomers were more likely to cite the birth of a child.
- More than a third of the elders said they remain close with friends they’ve known for 75 years. Boomers, too, say they’ve maintained long-term friendships.
- About half the centenarians are living independently.
- More than half say they’ve accomplished all they wanted to in life.
May the surprising benefits of maintaining vitality and joy be something boomers, too, count as happy blessings in our futures.