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Don’t sweat a dribbly exit

12:06am July 18 2017

The oldest person to scale Mt Everest, at 80 years of age, Japanese adventurer Yuichiro Miura, left, proves that we shouldn't fret about our latter years. (Getty Images)

As we pass June 30 and the kerfuffle around superannuation changes dies down, it’s struck me that while we all know we’re living longer, a surprising number of people bizarrely seem to take this news badly.

One, they worry that their savings are going to expire before they do. And two, they equate long life with spending a long time, as Shakespeare put it, “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”.

Let’s leave aside the fact that there’s an age pension for taxpayers whose savings run out, and note that the Bard’s views are a bit dated now. He wrote in As You Like It about types of decrepitude you might suffer in the late 80s and 90s, but in his time that dotage stuff was the likely fate of people in their 60s and 70s.

Meaning, the gloomsters are being way too pessimistic. Naturally, everyone’s worried about a dribbly exit, but they’re forgetting we’re all getting an average 20 years of extra life before then.

Older people are no longer in the one-size-fits-all, gold-watch-at-65 world. They have a lot more choices and as long as their brains still work, there’s a lot they can do.

American writer and comic Carl Reiner, who is 94, recently helped produce a documentary entitled, “If you’re not in the obit, eat breakfast’’, a reference to the feeling of relief that oldies enjoy when they see that someone else has come to the end of the road and they haven’t.

Note, he wasn’t just the subject; he was the director of the piece.

Not so long ago, in 2014, a French centenarian rode a bicycle round a track for one hour to cover just less than 27 kilometres. Robert Marchand was only 50.6 per cent slower than Bradley Wiggins’s 54.53 km record.

Canadian Ed Whitlock recently became the first person over 70 to run a marathon in less than three hours. He took up running in his 40s. And just a few weeks ago, 66-year old grandmother Pat Gallant-Charette became the oldest female to swim the English Channel.

But perhaps my favourite recent statistical news came from two UK academics who published a book entitled The 100 year life, sighting how a girl born now in the UK has a one in two chance of living to 100, with males not far behind.

But here we are fretting about the chances of spending a joyless last few years.

This is of course related to the big debate raging about End of Life, and how traditionally we’ve been extending the duration of life without looking much at its quality.

But that’s as it should be. Doctors have been honouring the Hippocratic Oath for centuries and we shouldn’t expect them to spin round now and pull the plug on oldies without a second thought.

Meanwhile, clerics are wrestling with the same dilemma, for some of the same reasons, backed by a selection of Biblical quotes. Plus there are worries about scheming relatives turning off switches to speed up their inheritance, and nervous octogenarians and assorted ancients finding themselves embarrassed at still being alive. It’s not a simple question to decide when life becomes marginal. But actually reality has been moving ahead of the debate.

In other words, the people expressing the most hostility to any talk of freedom of choice are not usually the ones sitting in the hospital carpark worrying about an elderly relative.

In a lot of cases now, oldies are being moved to palliative care which is hospital speak for “No More Intervention”. No one’s screaming about assisted suicide in those cases.

Let’s give ourselves some credit here. Homo Sapiens have arguably evolved more in the last century than it had in any millennium in human history up till then, so we should in time be able to resolve the dilemma about dignified death to the satisfaction of the big majority of our population.

For a start, more and more elderly people are signing off on End of Life Plans.

It’s the opposite of a will, being about what people want before they die, and usually covers details like giving someone they trust an “Enduring Power of Attorney” to make decisions if they are no longer able to do so.

In the meantime, the likes of Japan’s Yuichiro Miura, who in 2013 became the oldest person to climb Mount Everest at the age of 80 years and 224 days, keep plugging away and not sweating this stuff.  He plans to knock it over again after his 90th birthday.   

Another statistic I like is that Miura had a total of six heart operations over the years in relation to cardiac arrhythmia. You can’t argue with his climbing record, or embrace of the latter years. 


The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the Westpac Group.

Andrew Main is a freelance journalist and writer who spent 37 years as a financial journalist and stockbroker in Australia and Europe, mostly writing for major newspapers in Australia. He is the author of two books and was the joint winner in 2004 of the top prize in Australian journalism, the Gold Walkley Award. But he still doesn’t take himself too seriously.

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