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9:14 PM, Mar. 21, 2011 Written by DOROTHY SCHNEIDER dschneider@jconline.com

longer_lives.jpgRosemary Puetz and Ed Zufall dance at the Center @ Jenks Rest, 1915 Scott St., Lafayette, with the guidance of a Nintendo Wii. / By Liz Kolben/Journal & Courier

John Roller has a simple secret for maintaining his vitality at 79 years old.

He spent one day last week cutting wood at his home near Battle Ground. The next he drove his scooter into Lafayette to hang out at the Center @ Jenks Rest, the senior center.

"Just staying active as much as possible," Roller offered as his tip for enjoying the later years of life.

It's an important consideration as Americans are living longer than ever before. U.S. life expectancy hit another all-time high, rising to 78 years and 2 months for a baby born in 2009, according to a preliminary report out last week from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"That's good because I'm 84," Mary Gardner joked when she heard the statistic.

Gardner is also very active. She still works, on the Purdue campus coordinating the Wabash Area Lifetime Learning Association, or WALLA, classes for people ages 50 and older. WALLA classes -- which start this week at West Lafayette's Morton Center -- are one option for older Tippecanoe County residents looking to remain engaged during their later years.

"Any activity like this that gets people out of the house and meeting with people their own age has to be beneficial," Gardner said. "We have classes eight weeks out of the year, and during that time they have a reason to get up, be on time, take their medicine ... and the social aspect of it is great."

Chester Clayton, 86, of Lafayette, stays active through walking and socializing with friends.

"I feel like a young kid," he said. "Age doesn't matter to me."

Longevity factors

Deaths in 2009 were down for a range of causes, from heart disease to homicide, so experts don't believe there's one simple explanation for the increase in life expectancy. Better medical treatment, vaccination campaigns and public health measures against smoking are believed to be having an impact.

U.S. life expectancy has been generally increasing since at least the 1940s, though some years it's held steady and occasionally has temporarily dipped.

Previously, CDC officials said a one-month dip occurred in 2008 to 77 years and 11 months. But in Wednesday's report, the agency corrected that to 78 years, attributing the glitch to a computer programming error.

The 2009 report by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics is based on nearly all the death certificates for that year. A final report is due later this year.

Since she started as manager of Lafayette's senior center last summer, Melanie Solter has tried to diversify the programming. She's added additional exercise classes -- mostly done in chairs but also using a Nintendo Wii system or the nearby park -- and she's incorporated computer programming.

"We're trying to get at more than just the physical, but the mental and emotional (needs), too," Solter said.

Her job has helped her learn a lot about growing older. She's only 29 but is already taking tips from the seniors she works with on how to plan for the future.

"I'm already talking to my husband about putting away money for senior care," Solter said.

Financial considerations

David Vorbeck, managing director and founder of Bison Financial Group in Lafayette, said there are some major differences in the retirement planning people do today as compared to several decades ago. The 78-year life expectancy nowadays is a stark contrast to 1930, when life expectancy was 58 for men and 62 for women.

"Now you don't consider someone old until they're in their late 70s," Vorbeck said.

Along with having to make plans for cash flow for more years post-retirement, people need to consider what the rise in inflation will mean for their savings, Vorbeck said. He recalls seeing an advertisement from 1965 showing a couple that boasted of being able to retire at age 55 with $300 per month guaranteed for life.

"Back then $300 a month would cover the average person's housing cost and groceries," he said.

The most important tip he offered for the younger generation is to start saving early. Vorbeck said he's shocked when he visits companies to find out how many young people don't participate in an employer-sponsored savings program. And for those who already have such an account set up, he said it's important to keep tabs on the funds and monitor investment opportunities through the years.

And while longer lifespans are generally a cause for celebration, some researchers point to challenges that need to be considered as the population ages.

There are mounting demands being put upon many of today's professionals because of the need for elder care.

Mary Burbrink, a doctoral student in sociology at Purdue, recently worked on a study looking at the hardships many female academics face in this area. A surprising statistic she and colleagues came across was one showing only 5 percent of elderly people were living in nursing homes as of 2000 -- meaning the vast majority relied on family members for primary assistance.

"This unpaid care is by family members," Burbrink said. "Another problem that we found is the fact that elder care happens generally in times of crisis."

Most employers don't provide any paid time off for employees dealing with these issues. And the current medical system doesn't help family members address issues with aging parents either, since most seniors have multiple doctors and it's often hard to share information.

"As the older population grows, these issues become more apparent," Burbrink said. "It's good we're living longer and healthier lives; however, when problems do arise, that is also going to increase the demands on family members."

Contributing: The Associated Press

From: http://www.jconline.com/article/20110322/NEWS/103220328/Americans-enjoy-longer-lives?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

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