A little over 100 years ago, a major innovation transformed the automobile industry making cars available to a larger market and allowing automakers to install larger, more powerful engines. The invention was the electric starter, which meant motorists no longer had to crank their engines, a dangerous and difficult process, but could start them by the push of a button.
The modernization of the automobile industry is just one of thousands of modern advancements that hundreds of Coloradan centenarians have witnessed over their lifetimes.
“The most difficult part is watching as they outlive their legacy,” said William Porter, whose great grandfather was nearly a centenarian, passing away at 97 in 2017. “I was with him when his wife died, when his son - my grandfather - passed away, as well. Even though he didn’t show much emotion, you could tell it was hard on him.”
According to the Colorado Commission on Aging, a commission of the Colorado Department of Human Services, Colorado has one of the fastest-growing aging populations in the United States. Currently there are about 650 Coloradans who are 100 years or older in Colorado. By 2021 that estimated population is projected to reach 1,100 Coloradans.
“A lot of it has to do with technology and how it is transforming the way we age,” said Thomas Dalanhese, a registered dietician and athletic trainer. “Nationally figures show that the population of people living beyond 100 years is growing and I like to think that, along with advances in medicine, a focus on fitness and healthy dieting are playing a part in that.”
That is true In Colorado where recreational options, even for those reaching the latter stages of life, abound.
“I’ve seen some pretty creative campaigns to get people outdoors in Colorado,” said Dalanhese, who moved to the state from his hometown of Santa Cruz, Calif., in 2007. “I’ve noticed walking trails that offer the opportunity to hike a fourteener without actually having to scale a mountain. I’ve seen a lot of programs - like Silver Sneakers - in gyms and rec centers around the state that are aimed at keeping the elderly physically active. Colorado does a good job of keeping its elderly population healthy. I think that is a big reason that the retirement population continues to grow here as well.”
Diet and exercise, however, only paint part of the picture. According to the National Centenarian Awareness Project (NCAP), social interaction with family and friends is another key factor that not only keeps people feeling young, but lessens the mental aging process.
Dalanhese added that societally there is a stronger focus on keeping the senior population active and advancing in a constantly advancing world.
“I know it goes beyond exercise,” he said. “There are dozens of programs available at libraries, recreational centers as well as senior care centers that are focused on helping seniors work with advanced technology. I have a client, for example, who is 87 and knows more about Twitter than I do. I think he has like five times more followers than me and that is part of my job.”
Despite social and technological advances keeping seniors going far beyond their ancestors, there are still some drawbacks.
“Living for a long period of time can be costly,” said Porter who is approaching 62. “It hasn’t been the case of my family, but I’ve met people who simple can’t afford to live past 80 and their family is unable or unwilling to support them. I know that for those people, the prospect of living beyond their budget is a scary thing.”