Over the past year, I’ve been following Heather Nelson, a nursing researcher, while she completed a study on 100-year-olds and how they think of the future.
We visited three senior living facilities in Regina. And I filmed her interviews with the 100-year-olds and produced a documentary, which I will share with you in a future issue of this newsletter.
Visiting these senior living facilities and meeting the residents was eye-opening. I I learned a lot about aging and what life can look like once you’ve been “put in a home.”
My grandmothers lived into their 80s, but I never asked them directly about their thoughts on illness, losing autonomy and death, as we did with the interviewees in this project.
We also talked to the centenarians about what brings them joy and about some of the goals they are working towards while they still have time.
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Below is part one of my article about what life is like at 100.
Clementina Ripplinger, 101, sits in a chair in her room at Qu’Appelle House Special Care Home in Regina.
On a table in front of her sits a toy slot machine. Her son, Nick Ripplinger, dropped some coins in, and now she has to try to win them back.
Nursing researcher Heather Nelson sits down on the seat of Clementina’s walker and pulls off her surgical mask so it is hanging off one ear. She scoots the walker close and leans towards Clementina so she can hear.
“I heard a rumour about you that you went to the casino in a cab,” Heather said, putting her mask back on.
Clementina laughs and looks down.
“They didn’t know where you were. Is that true?”
Clementina shrugs with one shoulder. “Could be.”
“You told them your son was going to meet you there. But he wasn’t.”
Clementina shakes her head and looks at Nick, who is sitting on her bed. She gives him a devious smile.
“Were you being sneaky,” Heather asks, laughing. “They had to go hunting for you. You’re like a teenager.”
“You can’t act like a teenager,” said Clementina. “You’ve got to act your age.”
“That’s no fun,” said Heather. “What do you think 100-year-olds should act like?”
Clementina bows her head and puts her hands together like she’s praying to imply saint-like behaviour.
Heather, a nursing instructor at the University of Regina and Saskatchewan Polytechnic, is visiting Clementina as part of a study on what brings 100-year-olds joy. She is also curious about their thoughts and plans for the future.
When she and her research team, which includes three other Sask Polytech nurses, Paula Mayer, Susan Page, and Beverlee Ziefflie, looked at past research on 100-year-olds, they couldn’t find anything on centenarian joy or their future outlooks.
“I think that’s an area of research that we can really add value to,” said Heather.
On the first day of the study, the researchers met on the 11th floor of Sask Polytech’s Regina Campus, which overlooks the open Prairie on the city’s outskirts.
“I am hoping to see older adults who are not waiting to die,” said Susan. She wants to meet centenarians in the study who feel they still have time to do some of the things they want to do.
Occasionally, such centenarians make the news, like the former mayor of Mississauga, Hazel McCallion, who was involved in local politics until her death this year at 101.
Last year, she had been reappointed for a three-year term on the Greater Toronto Airports Authority board of directors.
A busy life kept her moving forward.
“I want to live life to the fullest until my very last day on earth,” she once told the National Post.
When she turned 100 in 2021, Hazel said she felt no different than she had the day before.
“I feel great,” she told CTV. “You just have to take every day, each day by day. I get up in the morning and get up with a positive attitude, which I think is a lot.”
Another centenarian of note is Fauja Singh, a British man who, at 100, finished Toronto’s waterfront marathon in 2011, making him the oldest person to run such a distance. He is still alive today.
There is also Capt. Tom Moore, a veteran. He raised millions of dollars for the British healthcare system early in the pandemic by walking 100 lengths of his garden. He was later knighted by the Queen at the age of 100.
Closer to home, on the Canadian Prairie, there are 100-year-olds who continue to work on their golf game.
Heather herself would like to live to 100. And if you know her, it seems possible.
She is a literal poster child for good health. While driving around Regina, you can see her on billboards advertising her karate dojo.
She is a third-degree black belt who competed internationally.
In her 40s, she took up playing tennis recreationally despite an occasional frozen shoulder, a condition where the connective tissue enclosing the joint thickens and tightens.
She detests fast food and is a non-smoker.
Heather is interested in studying seniors in hopes that her work will inspire her students, who can be scared to interact with patients of advanced age.
“They’ve never spoken to an older adult that was outside their family, so they didn’t know what to say,” she said. “They just assumed they couldn’t hear them or couldn’t understand.”
Next week, I’ll share the second part of my article, which features some of the stories Heather and I heard while visiting the senior homes, as well as some video from my visits.
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