Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Most Shun Idea of Living to 100 -- 90 Will Do Fears of Illness Prevalent, Poll Says

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Most Shun Idea of Living to 100 -- 90 Will Do Fears of Illness Prevalent, Poll Says

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- A generation of Americans is poised at the edge of a frontier. Many may live beyond 100 -- far longer, on average, than ever before.

Most are frightened by that prospect. Only one in four wants to live to be 100, according to a survey released last week by AARP. More typically, they would like to live until 90, but expect to live only until 80.

This hesitation -- surprising for a nation obsessed with wrinkle creams, liposuction and Viagra -- reflects a society deeply ambivalent about aging.

More years of vigorous life are welcome, and many fight aging through food, drugs and exercise. But they fear the last decades of an extended life will be filled with sickness, isolation, dementia, poverty and a sterile existence among strangers in a nursing home.

In fact, aging experts say, the senior years are now far richer for many, filled with work, exercise, learning and great-greatgrandchildren. Consider former senator and recent astronaut John Glenn.

"People may not want to live to be 100 because of the idea the older you get, the sicker you get. That's not the case at all," said Thomas Perls, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who has studied thousands of centenarians in his New England Centenarian Study.

Those who survive to 100 usually stay active and healthy well into their 90s with their final struggles with illness relatively short at the end, he said.

"The reality of aging is changing faster than perceptions," said Cheryl Cooper, chief of staff for AARP.

As with much in life, the winners of the geriatric lottery benefit from a mixture of good genes and good behavior -- including a positive mental outlook. Those who live longer tend to be more optimistic, less neurotic and better able to handle stress, Perls said.

But the future looks darker to most, the AARP survey shows.

"Today's adults still seem to believe the stereotype of poverty and frailty in old age," said Cooper.

Family experiences may explain some concerns about aging. Many Americans have watched their parents successfully weather a succession of illnesses only to succumb to cancer or Alzheimer's disease.

An aging population also worries about economics. …

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