Sunday, November 28, 2010

Attack (but not really) of the Old Old

"Old-Old" is a semi-official term in scientific circles used to describe people over the age of 90 (though that varies). I've met two people who'd qualify as old-old this week, which is kind of unusual in this field. I mean, generally speaking, if you're going to have a stroke, you're not going to be 95. You're gonna be 50, and something is going to kill you before you hit 95.

But lo! What came in t'other day but a 95-year-old? A sharp, active 95-year-old who (aside from a couple of minor, controllable problems) was about 60 in physical terms? That same day I started an IV on a--get this--one hundred and TWO year old who'd just had a knee scope. I had to chase that patient down in the hallway to get them back to the room so I could put the IV in.

When people over 90--and over 100--start showing up in your hospital's physical rehabilitation unit, you know there are some good genetics going on.

The 95-year-old's kids and grandkids and great-grandkids all showed up over the course of a few days, so I got to meet them. The son and daughter, both in their mid-seventies, looked easily twenty years younger (as did the parent). The grandkids, who were my age, looked 30. The great-grandkids were kids, so they didn't look any younger than they were.

It was like being faced with Lazarus Long and his family, right down to the red hair.

It was Longian in another way, too. Let's face it: if you make it past about 80 without any major health problems, you're running pretty much on genetics. Diet and exercise and not smoking and not playing with flaming chainsaws will do a lot to make your life up to about 75 healthy and active, but after that? Stuff starts to wear out. How fast it wears out and what exactly goes first is largely dependent on your DNA.

Good DNA will enable you to live as long as you're going to live with a minimum of health problems. Good *lifestyle*, on the other hand, will protect you from chronic diseases that would make your life hellish for thirty years before you died. What everybody wants is a life that's active up until the end, then a fast decline without torture.

If I were in a philosophical mood, I could turn this into a meditation about how one spends one's life, and how to make 40 years seem like 90. I'm not feeling philosophical.

It was just really freaking cool to meet two people who remembered not only the second World War, but the coming of electricity, piped water, paved roads, and telephones to their neighborhood.

8 comments:

Emily said...

My husbands grandmother is 94 and lives at home with her 85 year old boyfriend. She is sharp as a tack, tells us all sorts of crazy stories about being a kid and is constantly frustrated that she can no longer dance. This summer she asked me if I knew how to properly freeze fresh tomatoes. When I said I didn't she matter-of-factly stated, "Well, I guess I am going to have to live longer. I have a lot to teach you!"

I adore Grandma Millie!

Penny said...

Neighbor Ike was 96 when he passed away. Up until a week prior he was shoveling his walk and the walk of, "That old lady next door," which is how he referred to Nettie, his neighbor to the south. Nettie was 77. I have a clear memory of walking home from school and seeing my Dad in the middle of the street, staring at Ike's house in gape-mouthed horror. He was watching Ike repair his own roof.

Ike went in for minor surgery and had a minor stroke on the table. It would have meant rehab for a younger person. For Ike it meant he got told by his family that he would be going to a nursing home, not back to his house. Ike said, "Um, no. But thank you," and died. There was no reason for him to have died, other than he had lived 96 years in perfect health and on his own terms and had no intention of compromising on that. His was the only funeral I have ever attended with a truly happy heart. It was bittersweet, but it was okay.

He was not a well-educated man. He always told me, "You be a good girl and you stay in school." He is one of the reasons I really want to become a college graduate before I die. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

"It was like being faced with Lazarus Long and his family, right down to the red hair."

Another R.A.H. fan! Bless you....

Amy Sellers said...

I love seeing these "old old" patients doing well in life. I'll be willing to live as long as I'm feeling good. But, just as Penny said about Ike in her comment, the minute life no longer becomes worth living, I'll be ready to go. All I can hope for is to be happy in the final years :)

me said...

We threw a bday party for the FIL's 90th... his best friend from childhood (94) came, after playing 18 holes that morning... Amazing!!

My record oldest pt. was 106...

woolywoman said...

I love the sharp old folks. I think they add a lot of spice to life. My 90 plus neighbor just rehabbed a THA, and carries a cane only when taking the bus, so that she "gets a little respect from the driver"

messymimi said...

Those are the people I want to hang with the most. They have the long view on things that I need to learn to take.

Sarabeth said...

isn't it amazing! i'm a cna at our local university hospital and we had a 93 year old pt. who was very active-she was adorable.
i hope to be like that some day. my father is going to be 73 and it's like he's in his late 50's early 60's-he even does the Zumba classes! we were also blessed to see my grandmother live until 3 days before her 103rd b'day!

have a great week!