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Area centenarians living life to the fullest

Feb 22, 2015 | News

Elise Turrell likes to go sailing. Faded photographs of a young girl with short hair hoisting sails cover the bookshelf in her room at The Village, a retirement community in Gainesville.

In her youth, she sported shorts and loose T-shirts. Today, Turrell, who turned 101 last month, said comfort comes in her argyle socks and loafers.

In January, The Village held a special birthday party for Turrell and eight other residents living there who celebrate centenarian birthdays this year — from 100 to 104.

“It’s a very big deal,” said Paula Bowlan, the director of resident life at The Village. “I’ve been here seven years, and I have never seen this many (centenarians) in one year.”

Centenarians make up a very small portion of the total U.S. population, according to 2010 Census figures. In 2010, there were just 53,364 centenarians in the U.S., or 1.73 centenarians per 10,000 people, roughly only 0.2 percent of the population.

Americans are living longer. Average life expectancy rose to a record high of 78.8 in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, according to a report on mortality from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Many factors contribute to living a long life, but maintaining social networks and group engagement appear to top the list, Bowlan said.

Sam Greenberg, who at 102 has an independent living apartment at The Village, is adamant he knows how to age fruitfully.

“The world becomes smaller, so it’s important to keep social connections with who you can,” said Greenberg, who has outlived all three of his siblings. His second wife, Rose, died eight years ago.

“The problem with old age is that you lose the people important to you: wives, family, friends,” said Greenberg, who shares his apartment with the main lady in his life, his cat, Annabelle.

As an army doctor in World War II, he served 18 months in France and England and was in London on V-E Day, when tens of thousands of people flooded the streets to celebrate Germany’s surrender.

“It was glorious,” he remembered. “People were singing, dancing, laughing, hugging. (The British) were so tired of the war.”

In 1980, he moved to Gainesville from Miami to work at the VA Medical Center and teach at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

Greenberg said he has a group of friends with whom he goes to dinner every evening. They look after one another and talk on the phone often. Many of Greenberg’s friends are a good decade younger than he is, which, he said, improves the chances that he won’t outlive them, too.

Greenberg also credits his longevity to his DNA. Both of his parents lived into their 90s.

“We know from studies that meaningful relationships at any age are healthy and important,” said Tom Rinkoski, the caregiver support coordinator at Elder Options, the Mid-Florida Area Agency on Aging.

“It not only contributes to a longer life — because to me that’s not the most important part — but it would contribute to the overall quality of life.”

Another component for longevity seems to be attitude and remaining positive, according to recent studies.

People approaching the age of 100 tend to have a more positive attitude toward life and express their emotions openly, which can contribute to successful aging, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Aging.

Elise Webb, Turrell’s daughter, said her mother has always had an optimistic attitude. Turrell spent several years working for TIME Life Magazine while living in New York. But, a majority of her years, 65 to be exact, were spent volunteering at Valley Hospital in New Jersey.

Turrell has lived through the death of her husband and two of her three children. Last year, she had a stroke, which required she be transferred to the assisted-living facilities on campus.

According to her daughter, Turrell has rebounded and recovered from her stroke fabulously, largely due to her optimism.

“As soon as she was cognitively aware of what was going on, she was determined to get up and walk again,” said Webb. “She still tells me on a daily basis ‘I am going to get myself back to where I was before this happened,’ and when you’re 101, that’s a pretty great attitude.”

Rinkoski said he has found that this attitude of acceptance is beneficial to a senior’s lifestyle.

“The elder population has a much stronger attitude and spirit toward acceptance than some of the younger populations,” he said. “Generally speaking, I have found the ones who have more acceptance and a personal willingness to accept loss, whatever that loss may be, do better overall than those who don’t accept it.” Turrell said she is looking forward to attending her granddaughter’s wedding this summer. She said she also would love the opportunity to go sailing again. It’s been two years since she went last, she said.

“I think their attitude on life and how they live each day, each moment, is amazing,” Bowlan said. “The past is in the past, and you make the most of what you have today because you don’t have any promise of the future. They make you appreciate every single day.”

This story originally featured on The Gainesville Sun, See the article here.