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Living Proof

October 8, 2008 By:
Zara Myers, JE Feature
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Dr. Barry Marks

For some reason, many still believe that seniors -- people in their 70s, 80s, 90s and older -- simply are all frail, sick and confused.

In truth, with assistance from modern medicine, exercise and activities, wise nutrition and financial pre-planning, a person's later years can be a time of pleasure, exploration and self-fulfillment.

Dr. Barry Marks, a geriatric specialist with Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, sees older adults in a positive manner. "I have 90-year-old patients who don't want to be thought of as sick and frail, and absolutely don't want to be treated as if they were.

"My patients want to be active. I have patients with cancer who are proactive and fight for their lives, and those with arthritis who do their exercises on a regular basis.

"Attitude can be everything."

Longevity is also affected by "genetics, the environment, diet, exercise and smoking," said Marks. He pointed out that "heart disease has been cut by 20 percent in the last decade."

Take Pearl Sands. At her recent 90th birthday celebration, each guest received her autobiography, Pearls of Wisdom, the outcome of four years of writing classes at Martins Run, the Media-based continuing care retirement community where she resides. A preschool teacher with a master's degree, Sands played in the Lansdowne Symphony; she also sang in a choir, attended art classes, bowled and belonged to many organizations.

At Martins Run, she begins her day at the gym, followed by swimming. After lunch, she may be found teaching English to Liberian immigrant workers, being a para-chaplain, attending lectures and classes, or greeting new residents.

"The problem is that I'm too busy," says Sands.

She attributes her longevity and active lifestyle to the love of her late husband, Percy, their children Michael and Janet, three grandchildren and her sister, Jean.

The love of Judaism also plays a key role in Sands' life. She and her late husband were active members of Temple Israel of Upper Darby.

Regular checkups are on her calendar. "If my doctor makes a suggestion, I try it," says Sands. "I am happy to arrive at my present age. I'm just at the point in my life that I want to be."

Sylvia Backhaut, 90, a Wynnewood resident, is a cancer survivor. She says good medical care is a major factor in her longevity.

"However, you can't talk about aging successfully without talking about infirmities," she said. "I have tremors. It's not Parkinson's, and medication helps. The tremors don't stop me, just annoy me. I walk just fine, drive a car in my neighborhood and live independently.

"I'm very busy," Backhaut continues. "I take marvelous classes at the Kaiserman JCC, such as art and current events. I also go to concerts at the Mann and Kimmel centers, and to live performances of the New York [Metropolitan] Opera shown at a local movie theater. I will go anywhere to learn."

Unable to go to college because of the Depression, Backhaut worked in school administrative as an assistant to a dean of a high school for 32 years. She and her sister Bernice spend a great deal of time with one another. They and their late brother, who lived out of town, "made every effort to be together at least monthly. That's very important to do after parents go."

While she and her late husband, Gerson, had no children, she is close to their nine nieces and nephews, and their spouses, who are "like children to me. I also feel that way about my 22 great-nieces, nephews and their spouses, as well as the great-great-nieces and nephews."

Backhaut credits good genes for her longevity; her parents both lived to 83. However, she credits them with much more. "My parents were kind, intelligent people who taught their children to be kind. Because of them, I basically like people."

Current statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show that more people in our country are living longer. Adults who live to be 65 can expect to live an average of 18 more years.

With these numbers, it is likely that stereotyping the elderly as frail and disabled will diminish as medical science continues to extend life -- and the increased numbers of people aging successfully will stand as living proof.


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