Questions : My friend, a fragile 80-year-old widow, is having trouble with neighbors who have damaged her lawn. She's tried to talk to them, but they claim she's exaggerating the problem. Is there any way to settle this disagreement short of going to court?
ANSWER: Mediation might help. Mediation is guided by a neutral third party who listens to each party's version of the story and negotiates each issue step by step. This approach to settling disagreements will save both parties the inconvenience and expense of a court proceeding. Because mediation is conducted in a less formal setting, the anxiety for all parties, particularly your elderly friend, can also be greatly reduced.Today there are about 400 community-mediation programs in the United States, compared to about 100 programs 10 years ago. Many of these centers operate through the courts, churches and universities and many are free or charge modest fees. The more relaxed environment has resulted in settlements in 85 to 90 percent of the cases. Furthermore, compliance with the mutually agreed upon settlements runs about 85 percent.
Mediation can be used in a variety of different disputes, including landlord-tenant disagreements, small claims, patients' rights and family feud. Some mediation centers have older volunteers who act as mediators. According to a recent American Bar Association study, older people feel more comfortable and willing to talk with mediators who are closer to their own age. In fact, centers who use older mediators also have a larger percentage of cases involving older people.
For more information about dispute resolution, check the Yellow Pates under "Mediation" or contact your local bar association. You may also request a free pamphlet, "Neighborhood Dispute Resolution: Helping Seniors-Seniors Helping (D13068)," by writing to AARP Fulfillment, 1909 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20049.
QUESTION: It's hard to believe that my uncle is 98 years old. I am his 75-year old nephew and in good health, but I wonder if I will live to the same age as he or maybe even reach 100. How likely is it that either of us will get to be 100?
ANSWER: Many of us wonder about how long we will live and marvel at stories of long-lived people. This is reflected throughout history and in literature. The oldest person was Methuselah, who, according to a literal interpretation of the Bible, lived 969 years. In fact, the oldest person recorded in the 20th century lived 121 years. His age was validated through authentic birth records in Japan.
There are many factors that can account for a long life and any projections would be based on general population characteristics, not a particular case. According to William Pollak's adaptation of the U.S. Decennial Life Tables, a 75-year-old man has an average of about nine years of life remaining. A 75-year-old woman, has an average of 11 years of life remaining.
In your case at age 75, projections to 100 are more complicated and not easily calculated. But at age 98, your uncle has a projected life expectancy of a little more than two years. Barring major health problems or accidents, your uncle is likely to make it to his 100th birthday.
Surprisingly, as people get older, their expected age at death increases. For example, an 85-year-old man may expect to live 5.13 more years and an 86-year-old man an additional 4.85 years. While common sense would suggest that the 86-year-old man would have one year less life expectancy than the 85-year-old, in fact, there is only a fractional difference in their longevity.
Since 1950, the number of 100-year-olds has grown more than 10 times. In 1986, the Census identified approximately 25,000 centenarians, and in the year 2000 the number may well be over 100,000. Centenarians are predominately female and white, although at extreme ages, blacks have lower mortality rates. While these numbers are impressive, this still is a very small portion of the population.
Living to a "ripe old age" may not be such a blessing. As a group, centenarians encounter greater health risks and need for assistance and care. Forty-five to 55 percent live in group quarters, primarily nursing homes. Approximately 90 percent have personal incomes of less than
$5,000. Clearly, the health and economic status in extremely old persons is fraught with uncertainty and risk.
Of course, there are publicized examples of centenarians who are relatively healthy and active, each with his or her own "secret" to long life. These anecdotes may teach us how to personally manage a long life. Nonetheless, at this point, the majority of us will not live to see 100 years. So, while we may not be among Willard Scott's celebrated centenarians on the "Today Show," with changing lifestyles and improved health habits, most of us can expect to live well into old age.
Send questions about growing older to On Aging, P.O. Box 84256, Los Angeles, CA 90073. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; individual answers cannot be provided.