Living to be 100
My grandmother was the healthiest person alive.
This came, she said, from living in the countryside, breathing clean air, and cooking her own food, which was fresh from nearby farms or her own garden. She kept noise and stress out of her life. Her career was her home, and she was the queen of her castle — an image reinforced by her strong resemblance to Elizabeth II. (My grandfather reminded me of Richard Nixon, but that's another story.)
At any rate, Grandma's regal manner commanded respect and a certain adherence to protocol and ceremony. She always sat in the same exact spot in church. Visits followed a certain formula, and her birthday, January 1, was even a public holiday. A noontime meal of pork and sauerkraut (for good luck in the new year) was followed by the ritual viewing of the gifts, a tedious presentation of all the clothes and tablecloths she'd received from our other relatives.
Occasionally, my grandparents' friends from down the street would come over to spend the evening playing bridge or canasta — even smoking and drinking in the house, which otherwise wasn't done — and talking about the latest news in the village. In these rare moments, my grandparents behaved not like royalty, but like real people. I'm glad I got to experience this, because the side I usually saw was so different.
Their house was unnaturally clean. Clutter, along with objects that could cause it, was banished to the basement. Grandma had a clear idea of what she needed and what she didn't. There were almost no decorations, no "conversation pieces", and no books in her house.
Grandma never read for pleasure. When we city folk would pull out a book, she'd tell us it was more important to be doing something or talking to people. That was before she ran out of things to do and people to talk to.
After my grandfather died, the card games stopped. Disagreements, real or imagined, kept friends from coming over. Without a driver's license, Grandma rarely left the house. My aunt checked on her every day, but Grandma spent most of her time alone, watching "chippies" (chipmunks) in her large backyard and her "stories" (soap operas) on TV. Each day became more and more like the rest.
One day when she was about 75 — which, back then, was old — she got a medical checkup. The doctor proudly said she'd live to be 100. But to Grandma, this wasn't good news. She honestly didn't know what she'd do for another 25 years. She said her life's work of raising a family had been done.
Instead of living until her 100th birthday — which was yesterday — she died at 83. The diagnosis of "natural causes" belied the real reason. She had engineered a kind of solitary confinement for herself. Without any mental stimulation, she became more and more forgetful, and more and more absent, until her mind simply shut itself down. She literally died of boredom.
The exact causes of Alzheimer's disease aren't known, but the likelihood of getting it can be reduced. Stay alert. Keep ideas going into and out of your brain. Try to understand opinions, languages and cultures that are different from your own. Keep up with news and technology. Work puzzles. Read books. Travel.
Some of Grandma's friends and relatives did this and lived happily into their late 90s. They weren't bored; they just found things to do.