For those who are lucky enough to reach their 90s, here are a few tips from someone who has made it and is still going strong.
First of all, we should give up driving if we haven’t done so already. Reactions slow with age. And we should realize that there are a lot of other things we can’t do anymore: Mowing the lawn, tending a garden, running or anything else beyond a brisk walk, carrying in firewood and maybe carrying out the trash. For me, sailing and riding a bicycle are over and gone.
The solution is to arrange for help. A spouse may be able to handle most of such tasks. Hiring people is a fine second best. We have an excellent driver and caretaker and a first-class housekeeper for help every week or two and with dinner parties.
One big thing about older people is that they keep dying. When you choose a family doctor, a lawyer and an accountant, find youngish ones so there’s less chance of outliving them. And it’s wise to cultivate younger friends. We recall the wise words of a summer friend on Islesford, Arthur “Chummy” Spurling, who lived to be 102. When he turned 100 and a reporter remarked that the island must have a healthful climate, Chummy said, “No, its very unhealthful. All my old friends have died.”
Fortunately, my wife is a good bit younger than I, and so, of course, are our two daughters and four grandchildren. They all keep me up to speed and marveling at their achievements.
As you approach the nineties, remember the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Build all the shelves you need and install all the hooks you need while you still can. Put in hand rails in the bathroom so they are there when you need them.
With advancing age, there can come unsteadiness on the feet, so I got myself a handsome blackthorn cane, with a handle that can hook over my forearm. When people asked me about it, I reminded them that they never had seen a two-legged stool. A Washington friend who was better than I at preparation bought a cane, a broad-based therapeutic cane, a pair of crutches, a walker and a wheelchair, so each would be ready when the time came.
Buttons can become a challenge, and I found buttonhooks a disappointment. So when I buy a new pair of pants, I look for the style with a single button and none of those extra buttons and hooks that have become fashionable. The old fingers can’t tie shoes the way they used to. Velcro fasteners are a lot easier.
That’s enough of the can’t-dos. I still manage to write on my computer, although I sometimes miss my old Underwood typewriter. I write two Editorials a week for the Bangor Daily News. I still lay a mean fireplace fire — with no kindling but plenty of strategically torn newspaper. And I can still tie a bow tie.
We try to hike for a half-hour or an hour every day in winter and summer. If rain or snow interferes, frequent use of the stairways provides a bit of exercise — with hand rails, of course. If we feel adequately exercised, we have an elevator up to my study and back to the ground floor.
This all sounds physical so far. Mental is far more important. We read the Bangor Daily News, the Ellsworth American, the Mount Desert Islander, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. We watch television only rarely. We read a lot of books, currently Robert Caro’s new volume of his biography of Lyndon Johnson. And I do the daily Sudoku.
I wrote my own obituary years ago. Everyone should do that rather than leaving it to an undertaker. And we’ve drafted plans for simple family funeral services.
The only change I have in mind is getting a second cane (with the thought that a four-legged stool is more stable than one with three legs). As for the walker, the crutches and the wheelchair, I will wait on them until I need them.
So much for the 90s. If we all stick around a few more years, I will tell you about the 100s.
Richard Dudman, 94, is senior contributing editor of the BDN Editorial page.