By Leon A Smith
March 2, 2011
There is a strong possibility that somebody born today may have a reasonable life expectancy of 100 years of age. A generation ago, 100th birthdays were something of a rarity – a very special occasion warranting significant coverage in the media. Today that situation is very different. This is largely of course as a result of improved medical science and generally more awareness of health issues – the benefits of healthy eating, exercise etc. 100th birthdays are common place as indeed are birthdays – 101, 102, 103 etc! (Indeed the Queen now only sends messages on 100th birthdays and every 5 years thereafter!).
Yet, many of the residents in Nightingale (the care home which I run) have probably not enjoyed the benefits of either of these things. Diet in “the Heim” and in the poverty of the East End probably did not have enriched high levels of protein, calcium and vitamin C. However, many of these people have survived to the age of 100 or more. Last week I had the pleasure of visiting somebody in their home who was 99 and still smoking like the proverbial trouper! (I have a feeling that her doctor will not be advising her any time soon to give up smoking!)
We read frequently of new discoveries in relation to the causes of diseases and/or possible new cures. Nevertheless if we were listen to every piece of advice that we have ever read regarding foods to avoid in order to stave off the onset of dementia, we would all be on a starvation diet.
We also read that one of the secrets of ensuring that there is no onset of dementia is to keep the mind active but at the same time here at Nightingale I see on a regular basis people such as academics, doctors, scientists, politicians who have certainly kept their minds very active and yet they have not been immune to dementia.
So what does all of this tell us? It actually tells us that there is a lot of luck involved in living to a great age and that the onset of a variety of illnesses are in many cases extremely random. One can keep one’s mind active but still develop dementia. One can have regular exercise all one’s life and only eat healthy food but still not reach a great age and/or vice versa.
I also consider the nature of the lives that many of our residents here at Nightingale have lived. Many were brought up in great poverty and hardship. Many either escaped and/or their parents escaped from Nazi occupied Europe. And one wonders whether it isn’t the sheer toughness and hardships of having been brought up between the Wars that has held these people in good stead. And one wonders whether, indeed, it isn’t those hardships and at the same time the determination to survive that has led to longevity. If that is the case then certainly the “baby boom” generation when they become old will in the main not have had that early lifetime experience of hardship or hunger. Indeed it is hard to imagine anybody who will become 85 in say the next 20 years who had really known true hardship. Does this meant that the “baby boom” generation and after them their children will not have that robustness to help them survive to a great age?
The truth of the matter is that it’s all a matter of luck.