Change the way you think about age! Centenarians answer the right questions…

Every second, two people celebrate their 60th birthday. According to estimates, persons aged 60 and above currently account for 901 million and are expected to grow to more than 1.4 billion by 2030. However, older people are often portrayed as frail, weak and an economic burden on society. The reality nevertheless, is very different… Recent findings show that older persons are an enormous asset to societies around the world.

In a very special interview, conducted at UN Headquarters in New York earlier this year by UN DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development’s programme on Ageing, four exceptional women over the age of 100 addressed the common misconceptions about growing older by sharing their personal stories and why it’s great to be a centenarian.

Longevity. A triumph of development and older persons

“Older people are very often invisible and marginalized”, states Mr. Jack Kupferman, the President and Representative of the Gray Panthers (NYC Network) to the United Nations.

Ageism encompasses negative perceptions and preconceived notions and attitudes that often contribute to the marginalization and social exclusion of older people.

Older women, in particular, are primarily referred to as one of several marginalized groups for which limited, if any, information and disaggregated data are available. Women over the age of sixty and above are especially vulnerable, given the additional hurdle of discriminatory gender-based inequality that they often experience throughout the stages of their lives, including old age.

Celebrate ageing! Don’t fear it

Madeline Scotto, who just celebrated her 101st birthday in October was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and is still tutoring students as a math bee coach. When asked if she ever thinks she would want to go back to “the good old days” she firmly responded “all my days are good! I never say I wish I were back at 20 or 30. A lot of things have disappeared, yes, but then other things have taken their place… You just have to keep up with the times.”

Celebrate_ageingOne hundred year old Lillian Pollak, became a radical at sixteen, raised three kids, earned two graduate degrees at night and taught school for twenty-five years. She is still active, fighting for peace and equality in New York and around the world with the organization Raging Grannies. Lillian is also a published writer, currently working on her second book. When Lillian was asked if she thinks that wisdom comes automatically with old age she responded, “nothing comes automatically.”

One hundred year old Ida Keeling is a track and field sprinter who started running in her late sixties. In 2011, at 95 years old, Keeling set the world record in her age group for running 60 meters at 29.86 seconds. Her motto in life is “Love yourself, eat for nutrition, not for taste, and do what you need to do, not what you want to do”. Ida’s plan for the future is to launch a website on how to be healthy from birth to 100 and beyond.

Maude Pettus, 101, spend ten years of her life in China as the Head Nurse at Hsiang-Ya (Xiangya) Hospital during the war between Japan and China. After returning to the United States, Maude maintained her love for China. She joined the Yale-China Centennial Delegation to China, and was honored with the Yale-China Award at the hallowed age of 98.  At the age of 100 Maude climbed the Great Wall.

Looking forward…

On September 25 at United Nations Headquarters in New York, Heads of State and governments committed themselves to building a sustainable world where no one, regardless of their age or gender, is left behind. In implementing the new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, it is important to account for, and prepare for the demographic changes that are likely to unfold over the next 15 years and will have a direct bearing on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The steady increase in longevity worldwide  demands that we  rethink and combat the fundamental attitudes and negative persecutions that underpin age discrimination, so that older persons are given the opportunity to make a significant contribution to global development.

For more information:

UN Focal Point on Ageing in UN DESA