Centenarian Aging with Good Physical and Mental Health
This frail old shell in which I dwell
Is growing old, I know full well---
But I am not the shell.*— John E. Roberts
The lines above might well have been written by Mother Louise Isaac (age 101), a native of the St. Kitts-Nevis twin island federation in the Caribbean. She speaks a similar language of contentment with an air of spunk. The substance of her words holds the interest of her listeners, even while they wonder, “How does she still manage to enjoy such good health?”
At age 101, nine of her children are on medication, but she is not. She walks with a cane and wears a hearing aid, but still threads her sewing needle and reads every day. She quotes songs and Bible verses in her conversation; and among the four of us who chatted together recently, she was the first to remember the beginning of Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray (published in 1751).
Both her physical and mental ability are impressive for a centenarian, but admirers find the latter more amazing. Here are some of her past and present habits which may have contributed to her healthy aging with a sound mind.
Physical activity has been shown to ... promote psychological well-being, and reduce the risk of certain diseases, including some cancers.**
Palm Sunday March (2015)
Mother Louise started her family at age 15. When her marriage ended, she returned home to her mother who helped her raise 11 children. Thanks to her supportive mother (who died at age 96), Mother Louise was able to work outside the home, in domestic jobs for management personnel on sugar estates.
One job required a five mile walk one way. Each week, she prepared the children’s school clothes on Sunday, took the long walk on Monday, stayed on the job until Thursday then took the long walk back home. She also became laundry lady for the local police. She was no stranger to labor, having worked in the cotton fields while she was a student.
Mother Louise learned sewing, served the Cayon community as a seamstress for 60 years, and taught the art to several other women. Meanwhile, her gardening provided her daily physical exercise.
The centenarian still takes short walks and enjoys a healthy appetite. She eats everything, she says, excluding eggs and milk. She drinks tea from fresh leaves, and squeezes lemon juice in every cup.
A love of reading can protect your brain from Alzheimer’s disease, slash stress levels, encourage positive thinking, and fortify friendships. ***
When Mother Louise left school, she continued to read avidly. An old man in her village provided her with second-hand books. When her children became adults and began to travel, they sent her books regularly. Among her all-time favorites are:
- Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (published 1880) written by Lew Wallace
- The Hiding Place (published 1971) written by Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill
- Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (published 1997)
- Novels by Grace Livingston Hill (1865 - 1947)
Her children still send books and her reading material on her porch table includes Moravian Texts, a Moravian devotional and Our Daily Bread by RBC Ministries in Grand Rapids, Michigan for her daily reading.
Her nightly bedtime ritual includes singing and prayer. She sings her favorite songs Ship Ahoy, What a Friend We Have in Jesus and others from memory.
She remembers birthdays, faces and names, and relatives of people who greet her. She remembers poems she learned in school, and she quotes Bible verses accurately. She recalls events from both her long term and short term memory.
Prayer and spirituality have been linked to ... more positive feelings ... less depression ... greater psychological well-being. ****
Spiritual and Social
Mother Louise points upward when asked about the reason for her health and longevity. God is her first answer. Her devotion to Him illustrates itself in her relationships and her service for others.
One of her sons mentioned that “her selfless love for all her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren . . . her unbreakable bond with all of us; being held in highest esteem by all who know her; her many, many friends, and her refreshing and contagious laughter, together make up the incredible secret to the long and healthy life.” There are also several church and community members who refer to her as their confidant and counselor.
She is a praying woman and has served her church as choir member, lay preacher, member of the Board of Elders, president of the Women’s Fellowship, acolyte and Sunday School teacher until age 90. Her spiritual influence is demonstrated in her children’s involvement in church ministries. Two of her sons are full time pastors. Another son serves as treasurer for the Virgin Islands Conference of the Moravian Church – the denomination in which they were raised. One grandson keeps the legacy going by also serving as a Moravian pastor.
Should you live to be 100, what aspect of your life do you think will concern you the most?
Mother Louise is not an old woman needing encouragement; she offers encouragement and inspiration. She wants to remind us:
- Children are a mother's priority. If she is willing to make the sacrifice and put in the effort to help her children succeed, God will provide the help she needs.
- There is no reason to be unhappy. There may not be much of material possessions, but a spirit of contentment will reveal many other reasons to be happy.
- Longevity is as a gift from God. Be grateful for every new day.
Mother Louise departed this life at age 103. At her request, a Big Band Music group led the procession from the church to the graveside (about a mile) and attendants sang and danced all the way.
- Healthy Aging: 10 Tips For Growing Old Gracefully
In the last two decades, people have not only been living longer but they also have been staying much healthier later in life, according to a recently released study.
* Roberts, John E: Not Growing Old, (visited 3/30/2015)
** National Cancer Institute: NCI Press Release, (11/06/2012)
*** Gelman, Lauren: Benefits of Reading: Getting Smart, Thin, Healthy, (visited 3/30/2015)
****Scott, Elizabeth, M.S.: Spirituality and Mental Health: Benefits of Spirituality, (11/02/2007)
© 2015 Dora Weithers