EUROPEAN PAPERS ON THE NEW WELFARE

Longevity: a Right to Be Achieved

6. Capacity for adaptation and longevity

In our sample of centenarians it was also discovered that there was an inverse correlation between an anxiety level trait and a determined cognitive state using the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) (17); cognitive deficit corresponds to a low adaptability to stress and hence to a greater propensity to anxiety. This finding would show how important, even in advanced age, is an adequate capacity to revise environmental stressors. The effect of the environment in fact can be modulated by cognitive interpretation. Citing Selye once more we can state that “regarding stress what is important is not so much what happens as the manner in which we interpret it. The secret of health and happiness lies in the capacity to adapt successfully to the eternally changeable conditions of the world. The prices one pays for lack of success in this great process of adaptation are illness and unhappiness”. Advanced age can bring with it an increase in cognitive complexity in understanding emotions; this greater emotive maturity generates a greater ability to accept incidences of dependence without feelings of shame. Adaptation, moreover, can be carried out using compensation strategies within the individual including modification of one’s objectives, social comparison with those who are in worse conditions, greater trust in the care giver, use of aids, etc. In conclusion the processes of mental development seem to protect centenarians from the perception of the feeling of impotence due to disability, corresponding to a risk of anxious-depressive state.

7. Conclusions

Centenarians present a good genetic structure not predisposed toward any pathology as the constant familiarity with the longevity ‘character’ demonstrates, and as evidenced in different studies. No less important however is the verification of good life habits in these subjects: in fact, the low prevalence of risk factors for pathologies and the presence of factors which favourably influence the state of health, such as physical exercise, and low level of anxiety and depression, increase the possibility of a harmonious physiological ageing, with a consequent increase in survival. The challenge for modern medicine is to identify the means through a ‘programmed’ operation of prevention of pathologies to reach 100 years and the challenge for each one of us will be to make real our hypothesis that longevity is not an exceptional phenomenon but a right which we can all achieve so that we can die a natural death at 120 years of age.

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