Wednesday, April 25, 2018

What Does It Mean To Live To 117?

The Anchorage Daily News had the following short piece in its collection of short stories on Monday:

At 117, Nabi Tajima was older than modern-day Australia, and everyone else known to live on the planet. 
Tajima, born Aug. 4, 1900, in Araki, Japan, and recognized as the world's oldest person, has passed on that mantle. She died Saturday, having been hospitalized since January, the Associated Press reported, and was the last known person born in the 19th century. 
She was living in the town of Kikai on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands, the AP reported. 
The title of 'world's oldest living person' is a remarkable, if not fleeting, one. Tajima claimed the distinction in September, when fellow 117-year-old Violet Brown died in Jamaica. Brown was the oldest person in the world for about five months. 
Tajima straddled the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and is one of the few people who could recall a time before World War I.  Two days after her 45th birthday, the United States dropped the first of two atomic bombs northeast of her home island.
Tajima's secret to longevity was “eating delicious things and sleeping well,” the group said. She danced with her hands at the sound of a samisen, a traditional three-string instrument."
This is the kind of story the paper clips from elsewhere and so when I looked for it online, I found it in the Washington Post, with a few more paragraphs and some pictures.

My thoughts when I read this were about what was not in this piece.  What was her physical and mental condition when she died?  How long was she able to converse and recognize the people around her.  Did she still do the things she liked to do?  What did she eat and did she enjoy the food?  And how long has it been since she did those things?  What parts of her body were still functioning?   

I think about my own mom's two and a half year decline from going out, walking on her own, mental alertness.  The physical mobility went first.  She had some ailments which didn't bother her when she was in bed, so she started spending more time in bed.  That led to loss of her muscle strength and ability to walk.  For the last year or so getting into the car was a problem.  Eventually eating got difficult - things got caught in her throat and she'd start coughing.  Her mobility was via a wheel chair and someone to move it.  She sat out in the sun daily, reading, and I would walk her up the street and back.  Sometimes around the block, but the next street over was very steep and had terrible sidewalk breaks.  

While she had moments of confusion - particularly when she woke up in the morning and transitioned from her dreams to being awake - for the most part she was lucid and understood what people were saying and responded pretty normally.  She could answer our questions about the past as we found things in the garage whose history we didn't know.  My mom passed away at 93 after a vigorous life, which included working at a job she loved until she was 85.  

My father had a distant cousin who lived to 102.  The last time we saw him he was 101 I think and we picked him up at the assisted living home where he lived.  He was dressed in a suit - how he dressed himself every day - and we drove to a nearby Thai restaurant where we talked and he ate with relish.  I dropped him and J off and then parked the car.  But he walked, without a cane, the quarter mile or so back to the car.  At that point, I'd say he was in great condition and he helped fill me in on a lot of family history I hadn't known.  So living that long isn't necessarily a painful thing, though i don't know how the last year or so went.  

After watching my mom's decline, I read these stories about 'the oldest person on earth' with some skepticism.  I guess it's a remarkable thing to live that long, but is it something anyone would want to do?  The article says, 
Tajima claimed the distinction [of being the oldest in the world]  in September, when fellow 117-year-old Violet Brown died in Jamaica
I suspect people claimed it for her and I wonder what she thought about that title.  Our Guinness Book of Records Syndrome makes us note these oddities, and I realize that for medical researchers there is significance.  And if the title brought Tajima any joy, that's a good thing.

The Washington Post has a few more paragraphs the ADN left out as well as some pictures.
“She passed away as if falling asleep. As she had been a hard worker, I want to tell her 'rest well,'" said Tajima's 65-year-old grandson Hiroyuki, local media reported.Tajima was in the exclusive group of supercentenarians, people who have crossed the 110-year threshold. The U.S.-based Gerontology Research Group, which tracks certified people who become supercentenarians, reports 36 worldwide. All but one of them are women, and 18 of them are Japanese. Good diets and supportive family structure have been linked to Japan's world-leading life expectancy.
Her legacy is similarly expansive; she had nine children and 160 descendants, including great-great-great grandchildren, the Gerontology Research Group said.
Chiyo Miyako, also in Japan, has become the world's oldest person, according to the group. At 116 years and 355 days, she has about nine months to reach her countrywoman's mark of 117 years and 260 days.
Miyako would not have to travel far to visit her male compatriot. Japan's Masazo Nonaka, at 112 years and 271 days old, was confirmed to be the world's oldest man by Guinness World Records this month. The organization had been set to recognize Tajima before she died, the AP reported."

I'd add that as old as 117 might seem, the National Geographic notes:

 One study in the journal Aging Research Reviews notes a deep-sea sponge from the species Monorhaphis chuni lived to be 11,000 years old
"Ming, a quahog clam, died at the age of 507 when researchers tried to dredge the bivalve up from Icelandic waters."  
"As far as mammals go, bowhead whales seem to have the most candles on their cake—over 200. It makes sense, since the marine mammals live in chilly waters, says Don Moore, director of the Oregon Zoo in Portland. . . 
A cold environment causes a low body temperature, which in turn means slow metabolism—and thus less damage to tissues, Moore says.
I knew there was a good reason to move to Alaska.
"Currently the world's oldest known land animal is Jonathan, an 183-year-old Aldabra giant tortoise that lives on the grounds of the governor’s mansion in St. Helena, an island off West Africa." 
Here's a picture of the still living Jonathan taken in 1900 [!] that I found at a website called ODDEE.  (It also has picture of the oldest clam.)

 I'm afraid the title question was not answered in the passing note of Tajima's death.  The missing Washington Post does hint at the research interest in such people.  For the ADN,  it's just a newsy tidbit like the picture of Jonathan.

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