Episode 17 Transcript
Coming up on "Life (Part 2)," you may retire one day but where will you go? Retirement is tricky, but we've got you covered. And later, a man who's traveled the world collecting the secrets of the people who live the longest. Plus, a former Seinfeld writer with a predictably neurotic take on the ravages of time, all coming up on "Life (Part 2)."
(woman) Major funding for "Life (Part 2)" was provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies-engaging many to improve the lives of and achieve health and economic security for older adults. And by MetLife Foundation-- celebrating the wisdom, talent, and experience of older adults. MetLife Foundation proudly supports "Life (Part 2)."
[bass, & plucked strings play in playful rhythm; bright in tone]
Welcome to "Life (Part 2)," I'm Robert Lipsyte, and I want to age in place. My wife Lois and I recently renovated our house, and instead of building up, we added a master bedroom on the ground floor. The bathtub has a handrail. We're hoping to live as long as my father did, and at home. My mom died at 90 in a nursing home, a nice one, but still a padded warehouse. Dad, at 94, had tried to take care of her at home, but it became too difficult and eventually, too expensive. America doesn't always make it easy to do the best thing. After Mom's death, Dad insisted on living in the house alone. He grudgingly allowed my sister and me to hire a former nurse, to drop by two afternoons a week, tidy up, and cook some meals. Dad did his own shopping, and paid his utility bills in person so he could chat up the clerks. This ended on his 100th birthday, when he stopped driving, as a gift to us. One thing he wouldn't do for us was wear one of those automatic calls for help. He said if he fell and couldn't get up, he didn't want to get up, and that's what happened, 3 months before his 101st birthday. By the time we got to him, he was dying, but his way, and I hope my way too. So there are plenty of ways to retire and I'm sitting here with the people who know them all. Dr. Robert Kane holds an Endowed Chair in Long Term Care and Aging at the University of Minnesota, so you'd think that when his own mother had a debilitating stroke, he'd know exactly what to do. Not quite, which is why he and his sister wrote the book... David Savageau knows all the places to go when you retire. He's the author of "Retirement Places Rated." He rates locations according to climate, cost of living, personal safety, and available housing. Nancy Henkin is the Founder and Executive Director of Temple University's Center for Intergenerational Learning. Her mission is to create communities for all ages, where different generations help each other out. Welcome everyone to "Life (Part 2)." Well, as you know, I want to age in place, although not right here at this table at this moment. Nancy, is that the ideal?
(Nancy Henkin) I think many people want to stay in the community where they've lived for many, many years. But communities really need to be enabling, not disabling. They need to provide lots of opportunities for people. So though many people want to stay in their home, want to stay in their neighborhood, we really need to think about how do we create places that support and empower people as they grow older.
(Robert Lipsyte) The x factor here is medical care.
(Dr. Robert Kane) No, I think there's a bigger factor. I think we're using aging in place as a marker for some other phenomenon.
(Robert Lipsyte) Which is what?
(Dr. Robert Kane) When we talk about older people, what people want to preserve is their autonomy, their control over their lives. Now, they may think about it in the short term as saying well, if I stay in my own house, then I can be more autonomous, when in fact, they could also move into other kind of living situations that would allow them to preserve that autonomy.
(Robert Lipsyte) In the same community?
(Dr. Robert Kane) It depends on what you define as a community. Is a community the 4 blocks around where you live? Is a community the city where you're living? It depends a great deal. If my children have migrated to other places, it might be time to want to be near my grandchildren and to move to a different community, because I would preserve my family structure even if I didn't preserve my geographic structure. And so I think we need to clarify what it is that we're trying to maximize when we talk about these goals for our lives.
(Nancy Henkin) I think autonomy is important, but I also think the search for a sense of community and the sense of connection to others. A sense of belonging is really important. So whether you choose to stay in your community, and I agree, it's not in your home necessarily, it's in your community, or move someplace else, people want to feel like they belong, they have people they can count on, they have an opportunity to give back, and they also have services to support them.
(David Savageau) I was going to say everything that has been said thus far sounds really great, but if I'm a Boomer listening to this, I'm saying I don't think belonging or community is something that's really relevant. What I'm looking for is a place where there's a lower cost of living, where it's safe and where I can find some kind of economic opportunity, where I can continue to grow. I have no intention of retiring for the infinite future. From what we know about it, we want no part of it. So when we talk about aging in place, lucky for you, Bob, that you want to age in place. 1/3 of Boomers, according to surveys, don't.
(Nancy Henkin) I disagree; I think people are looking for a sense of community and I think that they're looking for meaning and purpose, and an ability to give back and to make a difference. We've talked to many, many, many Boomers who say this next part of my life, I probably will have to work, but I also am looking at this next part differently, and I want to do things that have meaning. I want to connect with people, I want to contribute, and share my skills and experiences. Erik Erikson talked about, "I am what survives of me," and I think this issue of legacy is important to people. So communities need to not only provide services, not only provide jobs, but also provide these chances for people to learn, to have fun, to make a difference in what they do.
(Dr. Robert Kane) The problem is that we're dealing with an anachronistic definition of aging. People in this country retire too young and so they wind up depleting their assets when they should be generating income.
(David Savageau) Exactly.
(Dr. Robert Kane) We need to be thinking about this in a very different way. And if we're really talking about the end of life, of those last 5 or 10 years of life, when people are in states of dependency, it's a very different conversation than if we're talking about those early stages of retirement when people are looking for, clarify meaning, and recreation and fun.
(Robert Lipsyte) There will be families who will be juggling both. You'll be retiring and your mom, is incontinent in a warehouse somewhere.
(Dr. Robert Kane) And so the best-laid plans of the Boomer retiree, who is actually going to wind up being the caregiver for his or her mother, is a very different story.
(David Savageau) It is interesting, more and more Boomers are moving with their parents in retirement. So it's really muddied the typical household. But, every year about a half a million people move out of state in retirement, so they've got something to say. It's a very small minority of older adults.
(Robert Lipsyte) Of the 200 places you rated, 2 places that you liked a lot.
(David Savageau) Alright, let me throw out Durango, Colorado for your consideration.
(Nancy Henkin) It's beautiful there.
(David Savageau) College town, small-scale town, preserved 19th century storefronts, very diverse.
(Robert Lipsyte) Give us another place, Colorado is too far away for me.
(David Savageau) [David laughs] Alright, I'm going to throw out something that would really, I think, go against the grain. Iowa City, Iowa. Medical school, world-class hospital, college town...
(Robert Lipsyte) Writing workshops.
(David Savageau)..writing workshop, you have filmmakers, everyone gets along on bicycles, public transportation to the university, they can use the exercise facilities of the Hawkeyes, and they're part of the community. It's just a great place.
(Robert Lipsyte) At what age should we start inching towards Iowa City?
(David Savageau) I think get in while the going is good. The mobile retired really are in their late 50's. They've settled in their new community and intend to live until one spouse dies, which is the typical pattern, and the remainder returns home, unless they're in a great community like Iowa City, where they stay.
(Robert Lipsyte) Hold on to that thought; Nancy, how easy is it to go to Iowa City or Durango, Colorado, and insinuate yourself into a place where you can be with children, be with people your own age, be with older people?
(Nancy Henkin) I think you can do this either in the community you're in, or if you move to a place like Durango or Iowa City. There are so many opportunities for people to be mentors, to be tutors in schools, to work with nonprofits, and to help them achieve their mission. You have to want to do this though, number one you have to be motivated to understand that contributing and finding meaning is a part of life, and will contribute to your own well-being. It's about the interconnectedness that's so important and feeling like your life has meaning.
(Dr. Robert Kane) Yeah, but be careful, because volunteering is simply unpaid work.
(Nancy Henkin) Right. That's what I wanted to say, it's about being productive, I think people need to be productive. Some of it's work for pay, I think more and more of us are going to have to work longer with pay.
(David Savageau) When I talk about retirement, I'm saying you leave your primary career behind, and strike out for something else. And in many cases it means a job. Now some people find that the local economy isn't such that the opportunities aren't that great. They could move to areas which are doing well, and find opportunity in let's say services or retail trade, or as in part-time or seasonal work, and retire at the same time. So that's one thing that drives people from say a place in the Great Lakes or the Northeast to other areas of the country, just a better economy.
(Robert Lipsyte) Well, you've told me exactly what to do. As long as my health holds out, I can go to one of your 200 places, and I can wait tables for all those Boomers. [laughter] Thank you so much for joining us on "Life (Part 2)."
(Robert Lipsyte) Dan Buettner is an adventurous guy. For one thing, he's crossed almost every continent on a bicycle! More importantly, for our purposes, he sought out the oldest people in the world and studied them. Dan's report on epicenters of longevity was a National Geographic cover story and a finalist for the National Magazine Award. For his book, "Blue Zones," he returned to Costa Rica, Okinawa, Sardinia, and Loma Linda, California to learn more about what these centenarians have in common. Dan, welcome to "Life (Part 2)." Broadly, then we're going to get into details in a moment, but broadly, what were the overarching similarities that you found in these 4?
(Dan Buettner) Yes, we found 9 common denominators. It turns out that longevity is the sum of a number of small things. There's no one silver bullet, and if somebody tells you there is, don't buy it. They tend to eat a plant-based diet. It's not necessarily organic food, but you see over and over, people eating legumes, people eating nuts, people eating plants. They tended to be religious, belong to faith-based community. They had a very clear sense of purpose. They took time to downshift. And while there was no diet per se, they did have little strategies to keep from overeating day in and day out. But almost everything they do is transportable and there's examples of it today in our world. They tend to live in very walkable communities. And you look at rural America, for example, 60% of everybody in rural America are either overweight or obese. That's very bad for longevity. You look at New York City, you look at the body type, New York City is a very walkable community. So you see very clear parallels to what we're seeing in Blue Zones to what's going on in our world. It's just what you choose.
(Robert Lipsyte) It immediately seems so counterintuitive, that New York City could be closer to a Blue Zone than Appalachia.
(Dan Buettner) But then there's other things that knock years off their life. I think stress and worry and hurry are very bad for us. You're going to find increasingly when it comes to longevity, the effect of chronic inflammation. It's tied to every major age-related disease there is. Every time you feel anxious and worried, it triggers this inflammatory response, which floods your blood system with hormones that wreak havoc on your joints and makes it more likely you're going to get arthritis, wrinkles your skin, makes it more likely you'll get heart disease.
(Robert Lipsyet) Let's talk about downshifting. You mentioned this a couple of times now, not to hurry, that seemed to me one of the key things that you could operate on immediately is try to slow yourself down.
(Dan Buettner) Yes.
(Robert Lipsyte) What would be some of the ways that I could do this?
(Dan Buettner) Well, if you look in "Blue Zones," in Okinawa for example, is meditation, and the meditation took the form of ancestor veneration. This 15 minutes a day of remembering where you came from. The Sardinians were Catholic and prayer was a big part of their daily routine, that 15 minutes. Costa Ricans took a nap.
(Robert Lipsyte) The siesta, the traditional siesta?
(Dan Buettner) Their version of the traditional siesta, yes. But I believe something as simple as happy hour is an ideal.
(Robert Lipsyte) Drinking?
(Dan Buettner) Well actually, moderate drinkers outlive their teetotaling counterparts, so one or two drinks a day is better for your longevity than no alcohol.
(Robert Lipsyte) You can do it at half price at the happy hour!
(Dan Buettner) Yeah, and you build your social circle, you destress somewhat, and if you're eating nuts, we're big believers in nuts at Blue Zones, that's another longevity.
(Robert Lipsyte) And you talk about living space, that you can create a living room, a bedroom, whatever it is, to move more.
(Dan Buettner) Yeah, the average American burns fewer than 100 calories a day engaged in exercise. So as you look for ways to get Americans less obese, and therefore living longer, trying to sell exercise programs isn't working, it's just not. But if you can deconvenience your home, if you can get rid of the garage door opener, get rid of the remote, do 9 or 10 small things, you could easily burn 100 or 200 extra calories a day without even thinking about it. So what we talk about in "Blue Zones" is not so much behavior modification, as setting up your environment so the right behaviors ensue.
(Robert Lipsyte) And food, other than nuts and beans, do you eat meat?
(Dan Buettner) I eat it sparingly. I think the idea when it comes to meat is to think of it as a celebratory food or to think about it as a condiment. Thomas Jefferson referred to meat as a condiment on his plate and you see this in all Blue Zones. In Okinawa it's Lunar New Year, they'll butcher their pig and they'll have one big feast. The Sardinians tended to have it on Sunday after church. But otherwise it was plant-based diet.
(Robert Lipsyte) Speaking of Thomas Jefferson, my father always said to me that you should leave the table a little bit hungry. And he died 3 months before his 101st birthday. And he, I think in many ways, created a little Blue Zone umbrella over his head. It was quiet; he was constantly physically active to the last day, everything he did was in moderation. And one thing that drove us crazy was that when the emotional stress level rose, especially when we were teenagers, he left, he walked away, he went into another room.
(Dan Buettner) [laughs] Smart man!
(Robert Lipsyte) He didn't engage emotionally, what do you think about that?
(Dan Buettner) Well, to the first point, this idea of leaving some food on your plate, the Okinawans, if you ever sat down to dinner with them, before the meal you'd always hear them intone "hara hachi bu," which roughly translated means stop eating when your stomach is 80% full. And that little mnemonic device kept 20% of the calories out of their diet, which for an American, that would be 17 pounds a year. So he was a very smart man in that respect I think. But as you describe your father, you didn't tell me one big thing he did, you listed off 4 or 5 little things he did. And if each of those things are worth a year or two of extra life expectancy, that starts to explain why he lived to 101 instead of-- life expectancy in America is 78 right now for a man.
(Robert Lipsyte) Now, he had a sense of ethical spirituality, but he didn't believe in God. How does that work? People always think that the atheists die early.
(Dan Buettner) Scientists cannot measure very well the impact of faith on longevity, but they can measure very well the impact of religiosity. And it's very queer that people who go to church, or mosque, or temple, 4 times a month outlive those people who don't go to church.
(Robert Lipsyte) Maybe some of these people wake up in the morning with a sense of purpose to keep you going.
(Dan Buettner) Yes, we know the two most dangerous years of your life are the year you're born, because of infant mortality, and the year you retire. And we believe it's because of a loss of purpose. You lose that impetus to get out of bed or get out of the easy chair or take your medicines. So the Blue Zones of the world, there's actually a vocabulary for purpose. Okinawans call it "Ikigai," the reason for which I wake up in the morning. Or "plan de vida" in Costa Rica.
(Robert Lipsyte) Did you change your life in any way once you got plugged in to your Blue Zones?
(Dan Buettner) Yeah, you can't sit down with 247 centenarians and not have it affect you. I proactively went back to the church that I grew up in. I'm not perfect by any stretch, but I get there twice a month as opposed to never.
(Robert Lipsyte) That's worth how many years?
(Dan Buettner) 4, or thereabouts, but I've taken up regular low-intensity physical activity. I used to be a maniac cyclist, and now I do things like yoga, walking.
(Robert Lipsyte) How old are you?
(Dan Buettner) I'm 104.
(Robert Lipsyte) Uh-huh. [with skepticism] You look wonderful Dan!
(Dan Buettner) Yeah, see it works.
(Robert Lipsyte) How old are you?
(Dan Buettner) I'm 48.
(Robert Lipsyte) Oh, so you're almost halfway there.
(Dan Buettner) Well, we'll see. I may only be a third!
(Robert Lipsyte) In "Blue Zones" it seems that a lot of the centenarians you talked to had kind of edgy, sardonic senses of humor. Were they happy for the most part?
(Dan Buettner) Yes, I think there's a very clear correlation. The effect of unhappiness on your longevity is roughly equivalent to a smoking habit. About 8 years life expectancy chain.
(Robert Lipsyte) What about the stereotype of the grumpy old man and the grumpy old woman?
(Dan Buettner) I can only tell you from a population of 240-plus centenarians, I can count the grumps on two hands. There wasn't a grump in the bunch actually.
(Robert Lipsyte) You've given us a lot of good tips as "individuals" about how to give ourselves some extra years. What about the possibility of constructing some version of Blue Zone communities in America? Do you think that makes any sense?
(Dan Buettner) I actually just got funding from AARP to do that very thing. We're taking "Blue Zone" principles and we're applying it to a small American town in Minnesota, and the focus of it is to change their environment, making their communities more walkable, helping them engineer their social circles, so they tend to be around people who encourage the right behaviors. We know that's very powerful. Setting up their home so that the right physical activity and the right eating ensues. And then working on this inner self, so teaching sense of purpose.
(Robert Lipsyte) Well, if you decide to put in a public television station I'm in your Blue Zone, Dan! Thank you so much for joining us on "Life (Part 2)."
(Dan Buettner) It was a delight, thank you.
(Robert Lipsyte) Tom Leopold began his career in show business as a child actor on "Gunsmoke" and went on to "Laverne and Shirley" and other classic TV shows. His producing and writing credits include "Cheers," and "Seinfeld." His third novel is... But it wasn't until the death of a show business legend that Tom Leopold began to truly confront the rigors of aging.
(Tom Leopold) You know when Frank Sinatra died, I thought, man, this can happen to anyone. It hadn't really hit me before and now I'm even older than Frank was when he made "Von Ryan's Express," although I'm, thank God, still younger than Frank Sinatra, Jr., but for how much longer? It isn't dying so much that scares me, it's the fear of showing any signs of age. Let's face it, that's bound to happen to me sometime. I don't know why I should have such a thing about my lost youth. I have a wonderful family, a full life, and I'm as proud as any Baby Boomer to be part of America's 50th greatest generation. Neurosis just runs in my family. My mother, who's pretty hypochondriacal, read this article about how people who win the Academy Award for Best Actor live 7 years longer than anybody else, and then she insisted I get her an agent. I said to her, "Mom, you're 80 years old, you're pushed around by an angry Jamaican nurse, and you have no show business experience. "An Academy Award"-- aren't you putting the bar just a skosh high? She thought for a second she said, "Maybe I could just present!" My daughters put me on Facebook for some reason, and all of a sudden, all these people I went to high school with started sending me pictures of themselves. It's like I download the cast of "Cocoon!" I'm not saying that I'm that great, but I try to stay thin, with the nice, and the clothes and the thing, but some things you just can't do anything about. Like after a certain age, your pants just naturally begin to creep up below your nipples when you sit, and there's no surgery for that. But thank God, my memory is as strong as ever, better than it ever was really. A lot of people are not that fortunate. So when I get really down, there's a poem I like to recite to myself. It's called, "I Have a Rendezvous with Death." It always cheers me up and maybe it'll help you. It goes like this: "I Have a Rendezvous with Death." [clears throat] Um, ah... something, something, something, something...some, done. I have a rendezvous with death. And you know, it's amazing really, how a well-constructed poem like that can put it all in perspective.
(Robert Lipsyte) Tom's right, there's nothing like good poetry to put it all in perspective-- if you can remember the lines. For now, that's it for "Life (Part 2)." Thanks for joining us. I'm Robert Lipsyte. See you next time, older and better.
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(woman) Major funding for "Life (Part 2)" was provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies--engaging many to improve the lives of and achieve health and economic security for older adults. And by MetLife Foundation-- celebrating the wisdom, talent, and experience of older adults. MetLife Foundation proudly supports "Life (Part 2)."
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