St. Louis on the Air
4:46 pm
Wed June 25, 2014

Are You Ready To Live Until You’re 100 or 120? You Just May Need To Be

American Edna Parker was the oldest living person in the world when she died in 2008. In this 2007 photo she was 114.
American Edna Parker was the oldest living person in the world when she died in 2008. In this 2007 photo she was 114.
Credit via Wikimedia Commons

According to the Pew Research Center, hundreds of thousands of Americans could live to see 100 by the year 2050. Women in France, Japan and the United States have already lived past the age of 114. With the now realistic possibility that individuals may live into the triple digits, planning ahead for retirement becomes both more important, and more challenging.

Living Longer

Dr. John Morley, Director of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at Saint Louis University, emphasized immediately that there won’t be a magic pill that allows people to live longer. It is about changing lifestyles.

“Recognize that anything I say (about improvements in science) are only useful once you are walking more, once you are eating well, once you are using your mind,” said Morley.

With that said, Morley expressed excitement over the possibilities in science. Recent experiments combining the blood circulation of an old mouse with the circulation of a young mouse has demonstrated signs of better brain power and better muscle in the older mouse. However, transferring the anti-aging knowledge used on animals to humans is still a long way away according to Morley. For now, longer life expectancy comes from being smart throughout life.

“It starts early, do good things early, get your kids to exercise early, get them good medical care and they will become great adults…and they’ll live much longer,” said Morley.

The Complications of Living Longer

Living longer requires spending more money. Michele Clark, financial advisor and founder of Clark Hourly Financial Planning, estimates that long-term care costs about $56,000 a year for a private room in the St. Louis area. And then you have to factor in inflation, which Clark says is about 5 percent each year. The rise of inflation over the course of an individual’s working life can generally be seen in a very tangible way by comparing the cost of a person’s first home with the cost of their most recent car, she said. The two prices are often close to the same.

Working longer could be a solution to funding shortfalls, but that could also be difficult.

“We saw in the last economic downturn that those folks that are in their 60s are the first to be let go and that’s because they’re most highly compensated,” said Clark. Rather than relying on a company to keep you employed, she recommended finding a means of self-employment as you grow older.

Because many of her clients wait to save for retirement until after paying for their children to go through school, if they don’t have a back-up means of employment they can find themselves in trouble, said Clark.

According to the Pew Research Center, almost 32 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 will still be working in 2022. Just fewer than 28 percent of people in that age group were working in 2012.

Government supplying money for the elderly can be a solution. Clark says the social security system shouldn’t need to be revamped because it was always designed to last for years. She debunked the myth that decades ago nobody lived past 65.

“If you were an adult at age 21 in 1940, you had a life expectancy of 77,” said Clark, as she explained that infants dying young was the main reason overall life expectancy was so low.

Dr. Morley said the main thing we need to work on is reducing the costs of Medicare by prescribing less expensive drugs where possible and limiting tests conducted to those that are truly needed. He said that when it comes to emotional and mental health, working with a psychologist or a counselor is often more effective than prescriptions.

Staying Healthy and Happy as You Age

Brian Carpenter, Associate Professor of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, who does research on aging, says many issues arise with longevity. Among them include how the elderly can stay active.

“Being on vacation may sound like a great idea, but there is nothing in the psychological literature to suggest that a 15 year vacation is best for people’s mental health,” said Carpenter.

Carpenter suggested that older adults stay engaged as long as possible, whether through volunteering or continuing to be in the workforce. He also emphasized the importance of continuing to foster relationships.

“Most of the psychological research suggests that when you have good social relationships and we’re talking about good relationships with family members or friends, that really conveys a lot of benefits,” said Carpenter.

Dr. John Morley agreed, saying that “coping skills come from having a good support system.”

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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