If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself

If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

— Eubie Blake

American composer, lyricist, and pianist, Eubie Blake, died at the age of 100. In addition to his many accomplishments and honours, has was also a life-long smoker – a fact that politicians in tobacco growing states tried to exploit- presumably to support their thesis that smoking did not kill – why, it was practically a health food!

Turns out, Mr. Blake may have had the longevity gene!

The recently released Boston University study suggests that a set of 150 genetic markers may play a pivotal role in determining who is most likely to hit or surpass the century mark. That leads inevitably to the question of whether we should find out if we had the genetic markers. What would you do if you knew you had them or not?

It won’t be long before entrepreneurial science tries to find a way to replicate and splice them into us. Forget designer babies – give ME the fountain of youth.

So, if you had another century to live, what would you do with it?

It has already been postulated that even in the natural course of evolution, there are newborns today who could live to 200 years old.

So the “Hair on Fire” crowd raising the alarm about Boomers bankrupting our health care and pension systems will now have something else to screech about.

Medical advances have improved our general health and well being in leaps and bounds. But the social, economic and political integration of older Canadians has not kept pace. That will have to change.

CARP’s New Vision of Aging is not only about what should be done for people who reach a particular age threshold – which is negotiable anyway – but rather how do we maintain full integration and participation in the life of the nation throughout all our life changes, including aging.

In our personal lives, we are increasingly more reluctant to “act our age”. This is a generation used to choice and self-determination. Having our choices arbitrarily limited by others based on our chronological age is simply not acceptable now, if it ever was. Getting the seniors’ discount might be a hoot for some [but welcomed by many] but we’d rather have the opportunity to keep working if we want.

We have the right – mandatory retirement is all but eliminated – federally regulated enterprises being the notable holdout – but ageism in the workplace is not eliminated. In the US where mandatory retirement has been prohibited since 1986, there is an entire body of jurisprudence centred on workplace age discrimination. So having the right to keep working does not guarantee the opportunity.

And for those at the financial margins but determined to take responsibility for themselves, income support programs need to allow more room for self-reliance. Instead, they seem to spring from a kind of measly paternalism. That changed a bit for the better with last years’ increase to the amount of income one could earn before losing GIS benefits. But any modest savings in a RRSP reduces both the GIS and OAS payments. That should stop.