Sunday, August 15, 1999

At age 101, she's ahead of the trend

More living a full century

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — The first president she has a recollection of is Roosevelt — Theodore Roosevelt. And when she talks about the World War, she means the first one.

        Mary Metcalf, a resident at the Florence Park Care Center, recalled a lifetime of events as she celebrated her 101st birthday Friday with balloons and cake.

        Although there are only a handful of residents at the care center who have made it into the prestigious centenarian category in the center's 15 years of operation, they are part of a growing population group nationwide.

        Centenarians in the Unit ed States, a study issued last month by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, said the average life expectancy of U.S. citizens has dramatically increased over the last century.

        Life expectancy was about 49 years at the turn of the century and just over 76 years in 1996.

        “I never dreamed I would ever live this long,” Ms. Metcalf said, adding that she believes it's God's will.

        But according to the study, there may be other factors that help.

        While earlier gains in life expectancy may be attributed to reductions in infant mortality and the control of infec tious diseases, reductions in mortality rates at the oldest ages are believed to be the major factor responsible for increased life expectancy in recent decades, the study says.

        This has led to an increasing number of people living to extreme old ages, including those reaching 100 years and older.

        While some may attribute a long life to folk remedies like a glass of whiskey a day or a pack of cigarettes a week, Beth Messer, activities coordinator for the care center, said it's about better health.

        “I see more people making that mark because they're more aware of taking care of their health,” said Ms. Messer, who has been working with the elderly for 30 years. “People I've seen are the ones who live healthy lives.”

        According to Bruce Craig, director of the National Aging Information Center in Washington, D.C., by 2050 there could be as many as 840,000 people over the age of 100.

        There were an estimated 37,000 in 1990.

        “It's conditioned on the assumptions of improvements in health care and other things such as that people will stop smoking and drink less,” Mr. Craig said.

        Caregivers at the center say Ms. Metcalf still stays away from sweets and exercises sometimes five days a week.

        “I've done everything,” she said, including riding in every form of transportation except a semi-truck. That includes, she said, the Island Queen that took her and her friends to Coney Island.

        She survived the Great Depression and World War I, when her husband was called to serve in Germany.

        “I was pregnant, and we heard he was to leave in three days,” she said.

        They were married for about 30 years before he died.

        She also lived through the flu epidemic in 1918, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars, Hawaii's induction as the 50th state, the first landing on the moon and the discovery of the AIDS virus.

        “I've been through everything, I think,” Ms. Metcalf said. “I've had so much I can't remember it all.”


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