Gerri Schappals is one of the few people in the world who has survived two pandemics and was affected by both. The 102-year-old New Englander lived through a severe bout of the flu during the 1918 pandemic as a baby. And now, a century later, punctuated by two bouts of cancer, Schappals also has recovered from COVID-19 in 2020.

September 22 marks National Centenarian’s Day, a day to honor and celebrate Gerri and others who are 100 years of age or older. These treasures have seen the television invented, lived through two world wars, seen women gain voting rights, Prohibition, the Lindbergh flight, the Great Depression, the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam War, the first man in space, the Civil Rights Act and even the first Super Bowl. What a wealth of knowledge and experience these truly special people are!

But how do we outlast the difficult times, like Gerri, and live to see our 100th birthday? And is our healthcare system ready for more centenarians? 

Fast forward to the year 2020, which has been possibly the most unusual and trying year for many younger people. We are in a pandemic today that the world hasn’t seen the likes of in 102 years.

Gerri Schappals is the oldest resident at the Huntington at Nashua, a retirement and assisted-living community in Nashua, N.H. “I don’t think of myself as old,” said Gerri, who is moderately deaf and provided an interview to The Washington Post through her daughter, Julia Schappals. Julia calls her mother feisty and tough and “an example of a good, fighting treasure.” She is an anomaly, and not just because of her age. The elder Schappals was not particularly health-conscious throughout her life, yet she seems to have a bulletproof immune system. She credits that to the 1918 flu pandemic, her daughter said.

What is the secret to making it to celebrate your 100th birthday? Scientists don’t know for sure, but many believe these centenarians possess a gene that extends their lives. The key to human longevity, they say, lies in their “genetic lottery DNA”. These individuals not only live over 100 years, they also rarely suffer from common age-related diseases. That is, they’re healthy up to their last minute. If evolution was a scientist, then centenarians, and the rest of us, are two experimental groups in action.

A global team of scientists and their report appearing in “Nature Metabolism,” a journal publishing content from across the full spectrum of metabolism research, uncovered genes and molecular pathways in insects and mice they believe may translate to the human formula. “Long-lived individuals, through their very existence, have established the physiological feasibility of living beyond the ninth decade in relatively good health and ending life without a period of protracted illness,” the authors wrote. From this rare but valuable population, we can gain “insight into the physiology of healthy aging and the development of new therapies to extend the human health span.” They believe that about 25 to 35 percent of the variability in how long people live is determined by their genes—regardless of environment.

Others believe that environment cannot be ignored. Research shows that a higher socio-economic status provides an advantage, and in addition, those who live in walkable areas with strong social communities and those who live in non-rural areas move the needle in a positive direction.

Statistics show that we will see many more individuals making it to 100. With an aging population that continues to grow, our health care system will be changed forever. Are we ready for it?

According to the Global Health and Aging report presented by the World Health Organization (WHO), “the number of people aged 65 or older is projected to grow from an estimated 524 million in 2010 to nearly 1.5 billion in 2050, with most of the increase in developing countries.” In addition, by 2050, the number of people 65 years or older is expected to significantly outnumber children younger than 5 years of age.

This leads to the question: what are the implications of the aging population on health care? We have all heard the term “baby boomer.” According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the first Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) turned 65 in 2011. By 2030, it is projected that more than 60 percent of this generation will be managing more than one chronic condition. Managing these chronic conditions, along with a patient’s level of disability, will increase the financial demands on our health care system. The cost increases with the number of chronic conditions being treated, considering the expected twice as many hospital admissions and physician visits for Baby Boomers by 2030.

As no one knows for sure how long they will live, putting solid plans in place to include good medical care, management of weight, cholesterol and hypertension, plans for long-term care and a retirement plan that meets your needs, will all help you live your life to the fullest.

As our needs change with age, it’s important to have a partner that can help us through our difficult decisions. The trusted advisors at Oasis Senior Advisors can help match older adults to a community that meets their needs, wants, and desires. If you or your loved one are ready to evaluate senior living solutions, we may be able to help. Give us a call at 888-455-5838 for a free, no-obligation consultation.