Seeing Old Age as a Never-Ending Adventure

Doctors are also struggling with new issues that uniquely affect many older travelers, like how to pack and protect medications that must be carried into the outback or the tundra without getting too hot, too cold, or lost.

“Everybody’s reading the handwriting on the wall,” said Dr. Jay Lemery, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, which started one of the nation’s first fellowships a few years ago in trauma treatment for the active elderly.

Some pursue challenges close to home, mastering a headstand or the perfect side crane balance on a yoga mat. Others go far afield.

At Mount Everest Base Camp, in the Himalayas, for example, doctors at the medical tent now regularly see trekkers suffering from age-related maladies. But Dr. Eric L. Johnson, a physician in Idaho who has worked at Everest, also camped next to a 74-year-old woman who made it to 28,000 feet on the mountain, only about 1,000 feet from the summit, before she turned back.

Other experts in wilderness medicine say they think technology has diminished the perception of risk that, in past generations, might have kept people on the front porch.

“A leg fracture hiking the Inca Trail seems less frightening now, in the age of cellphones and satellite phones,” Dr. Lemery said. “So people go on these adventures and think, ‘I can get out of there if something goes wrong.’ ”

But some emergency medicine and rescue experts also say that older people might in fact be safer in adventurous, high-exertion activities and environments than their younger counterparts, or at least no less safe. And some use an old-fashioned word to explain why: wisdom.

“It’s still the same knuckleheads getting in trouble or coming unprepared; young people, mostly,” said Sgt. Bob Silva of the Eagle County Police Department in the central Colorado Rockies, who regularly gets called for search-and-rescue duty.

There is a certain pride of place that comes with age, too.

When Charles Smith, 89, a retired engineer from Delray Beach, Fla., was heading for the South Pole a few years ago, for example, a woman got off the plane at base camp and started bragging about being 80. She was quickly put in her place.

“One of the fellows in our group tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘I don’t want to prick your balloon, but there are three in our group who are older,’ ” Mr. Smith said.

Sometimes, motivation strikes like lightning. After Betty Beauchemin’s husband died in 2006, she said, she just about shut down.

Then, one day in 2008 after attending a workshop on goal-setting near her home in Cranston, R.I., Ms. Beauchemin, 80, was sitting on a beach and had an inspiration: She wanted to go parasailing for the first time in her life — which she proceeded to do. That winter, she started skiing again.

Physiological luck plays a role, too. Ms. Telesmanich, whose sprained ankle has healed well, said she grew up athletic, playing sports with the boys, and never stopped.