Fitness Magazine

What We Mean By Healthy Aging

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

What We Mean By Healthy Aging

Melitta teaches "Granny Yoga" to her mother,  aunt, and aunt's friend

For us, the life story of our friend Melitta’s mother Nancy is a perfect example of “healthy aging.” Born in San Francisco on December 12, 1921, Nancy died on August 27, 2015, age 93 (or 93 and a half as she liked to say). She was very active all her life. She played sports in school, and was her high school and college track and field champion in shot put and discus. She loved skiing, sailing, hiking, horseback riding—all things outdoors. She even worked as a wrangler at ranches around California. 
Even in her last years, she walked three miles every morning with her walking buddies Elaine and Ellen, power walking along the beach and greeting the other regular walkers. She did have some back problems with spinal stenosis, so Melitta gave her a yoga mat and some back care yoga poses to do. Nancy did them faithfully every morning, and was so pleased that they really improved her back.
Nancy also loved traveling, and during her lifetime, she traveled around the world, visiting every continent. In 2011, she returned to her favorite country, Turkey, and traveled around Eastern Turkey. In 2012, she did her last safari in Africa, and then gave up long haul travel, though she continued to travel within the US to spend time with family. She volunteered at her church until about age 91, and had an amazing network of friends and family. 
She lived independently in her apartment until her last few days. At age 90, she had made her own decision to stop driving. Although she didn’t have any hired help, her friend Elaine, a true force of nature, looked in on her regularly (and considered it an honor to do that). Elaine also helped her by taking shopping after she stopped driving and would send her husband Lloyd over to help her with tech stuff, such as her computer and printer. 
It was only in the last year of her mom’s life that Melitta noticed her mom was slowing down. She and Melitta did discuss her fear of decline, and Melitta’s fear of her decline. She had some gallbladder issues, and in July 2015 she had a bile duct blockage and had surgery. Then, in August 2015, she had emergency surgery for gallstones, but she also developed sepsis. She was in ICU for four days, and although doctors "threw all the antibiotics" they could at her, her organs were failing, so the family followed her directives and discontinued care. When Melitta first got to the hospital, Nancy was still conscious but unable to speak because she was intubated. In the joking way they had with each other, Melitta said, "it must be bad if I am here." Nancy laughed as best she could. She died two days later, with her children holding her as she moved on. 
In our post What is Healthy Aging, Anyway?, we defined what we mean by "healthy aging," describing its three basic components:
Compressed Morbidity. This is the time out of your life span that you spend in ill health. Nancy had a lifetime of excellent health, with some slowing down and her only serious problems limited to her last year of life. (This is generally the best-case scenario for people who live as long as she did.)
Independence. This means not just being able to live on your own, but being able to continue to do the activities that you love and that give your life meaning. And Nancy was not only able to stay in her home until the end of her life, she was able to keep up her active life almost until the end, including walking on the beach with her friends, traveling, volunteering at her church, and spending time with friends and family.  
Equanimity. This means being able to face difficulty and handle challenges with balance and grace. Although there’s much we don’t know about her life and how she faced earlier challenges, we think it’s worth considering how Nancy dealt with the challenges of being older. It sounds like she faced them head on! She realistically decided to stop overseas travel and driving when the time was right. And she was able to discuss her fears of decline and to confront her death. That allowed her to leave directives for her family and to die on her own terms. Finally, being able to laugh at her daughter’s joke at the very end sounds like she was she was able to stay engaged in life and family for all her days. How beautiful!
Thanks, Melitta, for sharing this story with us.
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