Reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent William J. Kole has long been fascinated with the prospect of people living past 100 years of age. His own grandmother lived to be 104. “Her life touched three centuries,” Kole says with amazement of her 1899 to 2003 span. “In her younger years, she played the piano for silent movies. She was a fascinating individual.”
What once was rare – living past 99 – has become more common due to ongoing advances in medicine and technology. “In the next 25 years, the number of people living into the triple digits will increase eightfold. Half of all five-year-olds alive today will live to at least 100.”
In his new book, The Big 100: The New World of Super-Aging, the Warwick resident raises the question of whether or not we are ready for the impact that this swell in aging adults will have on society. “Increasing our life expectancy is wonderful, but there are a number of realities that we have to consider,” Kole posits. “How do we manage our long-term care? And what about our personal finances? How do we deal with a century worth of bills?”
According to Kole, research shows both positives and negatives. There are things that we need to consider to make certain that tomorrow is worth living for all of us, from addressing quality of life concerns to coping with diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. “Even for people with genetic tendencies toward these diseases, it’s not inevitable that they will ultimately experience them,” says Kole. “There are steps we can all take to keep [chronic illnesses] at bay, mainly leading a healthy and active life both physically and mentally. The potential is there for each of us living to 100 and beyond to continue to be creative and contribute to deeper, richer lives. These bonus years can be beautiful.”
In the biggest little state, the outlook is promising. “Rhode Island is in pretty good shape in terms of people hitting the century mark. We’re currently number four in the country with 360 centenarians,” reports Kole. Nearby states are high on the scale as well, with Connecticut ranking number two and Massachusetts at number nine. “There is actual research that shows living near the ocean can extend life expectancy. It may be the soothing sounds of the water and access to open spaces where we can breathe fresh air.”
Released in October, The Big 100 continues to garner much buzz and acclaim. Dr. Jane Goodall, noted anthropologist, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, and UN Messenger of Peace, calls it “stimulating and inspiring,” and Kole has been a guest on many broadcasts, including WBUR’s On Point. The author ends with this nugget of wisdom: “We’re all aging, whether we’re 18 or 81. But the question is what can we do to make sure that this time is meaningful, that it matters?” Learn more at BillKoleBooks.com; find The Big 100 at your favorite indie bookseller by request or on the shelf.
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