Saturday, November 22, 2014

How Old is Too Old? (Research, Hospice Story)

How old is too old? How long would you really like to live? How about 120 years with the help of technology? Some people think being around dying patients must always be sad because everybody fears death, and no one really wants to die. As a hospice volunteer, I have had several patients who could prove them wrong. These nursing home residents actually stated they looked forward to death and gave reasons that had nothing to do with depression. This is what hospice patient Rose and I discussed about her upcoming death (Excerpt from Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes):

“How old did you tell me I was?” Rose asked.

“You’re ninety-nine, and you’ll be a hundred years old on your next birthday.”

“A hundred years old is too old. I don’t think I want to be that old,” Rose shared.

“There are three other ladies in this nursing home who are older than that. One is a hundred three. We talked to her last week during your wheelchair ride.”

Without realizing it, Rose was in good company. The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world. It turns out that most Americans would like to die before they turn 100, even if there were life-extending technologies that could extend their lives to 120 years old. Many felt that the best lifespan would be between the ages of 79 and 100 for these reasons:

      1) Life-extending treatments would be offered before side effects were understood.

      2) Extended lifespans would put a strain on natural resources.

      3) Interestingly, 58% felt that extending lifespans to 120 would be “fundamentally unnatural.”

Rose had another perspective, and this is how our conversation concluded:

“How much longer will it be before I make one hundred? I don’t know if I want to wait too much longer, ” Rose explained.

I responded, “It’s only one more month. I remember you said you had spiritual talks with your minister. If you decide to wait, I’ll get you a big balloon that looks like a birthday cake.”

Smiling, Rose said, “I guess I could wait. Yes, I think I will wait. That way I can celebrate my hundredth birthday. When I do get to heaven, I can tell everybody I lived to be one hundred.”

And that’s exactly what she did. How about you? If technology could extend your life, would you want to live 120 years?

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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