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Healthy Life Expectancy

By Bob Vahsholtz

Bob & Marge Vahsholtz with Vera, Irene, Carol, Kate & Tina at Madison Falls.

We’re living longer these days than we were led to expect. In 1960 we were told 70 years was a typical life span, providing little cheer for those planning to retire at the normal age of 65. Now they say life expectancy is more like 80! Both numbers are misleading for those of us who have already negotiated the rough spots to reach age 65. Those same mortality tables suggest retirees can expect to live on for another two decades or so! My wife Marge and I have done it and the road ahead looks good! We’re surrounded by friends who’ve pulled off the same trick.

According to the World Health Organization, typical retirees should expect to enjoy something like a single decade of “Healthy Life Expectancy”—just 10 years! What’s going on? Here at Park View Villas, people are doing ever so much better than that! We have friends here still going strong and enjoying life at ages of 100 plus. We’re beginning to understand how that can happen.

The University of Sheffield in England sponsors the Healthy Lifespan Institute. They’ve set this task for themselves:

Traditionally research has focused on either the biological mechanisms of ageing or its social impact. At the Healthy Lifespan Institute we investigate both the biological and social processes that cause ageing, and how the two interact.

Interesting, and let’s wish them every success! Nations are signing up to understand all this, and so should we; those of us caught in the act of aging at various stages. Japan hosts the world’s oldest population and their health ministry has launched programs to extend their senior’s healthy life expectancy as opposed to just propping up old people in their beds. Japan leads the world in its high ratio of seniors and low ratio of births. They’re running short of people capable and willing to do the work needed for a healthy society. Nearly all the rest of the world faces the same problem, though lagging a bit behind Japan’s curve.

Most of us real people are more interested in what can be done to extend our personal healthy life expectancy, right? Ten years of healthy retirement is hardly enough! Marge and I have learned a few tricks from personal experience.

After a lucky couple of enjoyable decades of ticking off items from our bucket list we saw the handwriting on the wall and started planning our next act. Marge had endured partially successful back surgery and needed knee surgery. Continuation of the “good life” suggested less stair climbing, lawn work, maintenance and cooking; “work” that soaked up too much of our time and energy. We hired home care but finding, overseeing and retaining such services proved almost as hard and stressful as doing the work ourselves. So we looked into local (California) retirement communities, visiting those nearby, talking to residents and friends seeking the “right place”. We found a suitable one, told our kids the decision and started planning the move. Our son and his wife suggested we might like to consider moving closer to them “in our old age”. That would require a long move to Washington state, but no rush … so why not have a look?

We’re very glad we did. We did internet homework, liked the state and turned up several attractive retirement communities. We pared the list to ten and visited each, eating a meal, talking to staff and residents, checking references and making notes. We learned a lot in our search. Good retirement communities are a revelation. Most residents of communities we visited seemed about our age or older, and delighted to give us their personal sales pitch, “Are you planning to join us here? Want to see my apartment? This is a good place to live!” Complaints were surprisingly rare—the better retirement communities are just that; communities. Places where people can extend their healthy life expectancy.

We asked community representatives why the people seem so healthy, happy and long-lived. “I’m not sure,” said Beth Pratt, “but it may be because they eat healthier here, have less stress and … maybe those who can afford this life style have taken better care of themselves than average?” Whatever, it seems to work.

We found two important kinds of community; Independent Living and Assisted Living. Some offer both. The former tend to attract younger and healthier residents; the latter have residents more in need of personal care. We’ve moved a lot and learned it gets harder with age. We hope to make this apartment our final home. We don’t need assistance but someday … who knows? We chose Park View Villas and got on the waiting list for our choice of apartment. This is a pleasant community offering independent living with an extensive menu of assisted living options as needed. Professional help is at hand, and we like knowing the people who provide it to our friends will do the same for us, right here in our own home, when and if we need it. We’ve lived here for nearly four years—healthy and happy.

Our experience suggests that “home thing” is key to the good life. The unhappy residents seem to be those who were “forced” out of their previous home by failing health. They waited too long. They’ve had too little opportunity to make friends and become comfortable members of the community. We’ve found the good life is about choice. Thinking carefully, planning the timing and choosing our move worked well for us. We help by walking two miles per day.

We and many others have enhanced our own “healthy life expectancy” by downsizing and turning the chores over to those more willing and able to handle the burdens. To our pleasant surprise we don’t miss California or our oversized house—and our cost of living went down.

Life is good!

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