Nancy Alewine, 75, is a typical loving, caring mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Known by her family as “Nana,” she loves to garden, cook, read and take care of her cats, Captain and Tennille. However, she’s not as average as you might think. When she isn’t at her Little Rock home or volunteering, she is completing her “bucket list” of thrills most typical 75-year-olds would never consider doing. Her list ranges from buying a new mink coat to zip-lining and even skydiving.
“I’m not going to sit here and wait for something to happen,” says Nancy, a patient in the Thomas and Lyon Longevity Clinic in the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. “I’m going to be a doer and a shaker.”
She credits her ability to thrive at 75 to the Institute on Aging, which has made the U.S. News & World Report’s prestigious top 10 postdoctoral education programs list for seven consecutive years and is currently ranked seventh. Most would consider her the perfect embodiment of the institute’s tagline: “Aging Well, Living Better.”
The Institute on Aging is working to help the growing number of elderly Arkansans such as Nancy to age gracefully. According to the Arkansas Healthy Aging Report, by 2025 one out of every four Arkansans will be 65 or older; this compares to 14 percent of Arkansans in 2000. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2025, the state will have the fifth highest percentage of elderly population in the nation.
With these statistics in mind, the Institute on Aging is rising up to meet the challenge of keeping Arkansas’ adults healthy and active as they age. To accommodate our growing number of patients, the institute is opening a four-floor, 55,000-square-foot expansion to continue using state-of-the-art technology, research and patient care to meet the needs of Arkansans in the coming decades.
As a role model for other Aging Institute patients, Nancy has seized every opportunity to live life outside of the box after her husband of 53 years lost his battle with cancer four years ago. Even with knees devoid of cartilage and arthritis in her hands, she hasn’t let anything hold her back.
“I have known so many people that sat in a chair and that was it,” she said. “They were waiting for the grim reaper to come visit.”
What’s the secret to Nancy’s vitality? Geriatrician Dr. Gohar Azhar, Nancy’s doctor for about three years, says that along with the expertise of the Aging Institute’s doctors, Nancy has a positive attitude that has made her “one in a million.”
“Nancy has remained active and happy because she has an extremely positive attitude towards life,” Dr. Azhar says. “For her, the cup is always more than half full and she wakes up every day looking forward to being productive, living life to its fullest and helping others to appreciate it as well.”
Nancy, a new great-grandmother, mother to three and a grandmother of six, agrees that her outlook on life has given her the motivation to reach for her dreams. “I really think the way you live life depends on your state of mind,” Nancy says. “I have to make up my mind that even though my knees hurt like crazy, I’m still going to go walk or work out. Some people dread turning old and I’ve never done that. I celebrate the day and thank God that I made it another year. My faith influences the way I look at life and the fact that I’ve had my family and a good marriage.”
Nancy has completed several items on her list and she has at least 10 more to accomplish. Her first trip was to Jamaica with her family, and she has since zip-lined in the Las Vegas desert, cruised to Alaska, parasailed at the Turks and Caicos and jumped out of a plane in Memphis. She is now gearing up to ride a donkey to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and whitewater raft on the Colorado River. She also plans to celebrate her next birthday in the Turks and Caicos. Other future plans include touring Alaska, visiting Greece and seeing either Hawaii or Australia.
Skydiving was the most “exhilarating” for Nancy, who was asked why she would jump out of a “perfectly good airplane.”
“When we jumped out of the plane we were at 14,500 feet and traveled over 230 MPH,” she said. “It is the closest I will ever come to knowing how an eagle feels or, for that matter, an angel. When you’re in the plane you’re strapped to someone else. The plane goes straight up into the air and does a free fall, and this creates zero gravity. Now I know what an astronaut feels like in space.”
Even though Dr. Azhar doesn’t travel with Nancy, she enjoys hearing about her adventures. “It is a lot of fun being Nancy’s doctor,” she says. “I get to participate in all of her adventures vicariously. It is such a privilege to be her physician. She has remarkable strength of character and wisdom, which benefits all those who come in contact with her, including me.”
Nancy’s message to other senior adults is to stay active and pursue their interests. When Nancy isn’t completing her bucket list, she keeps a regular exercise routine and eats a healthy diet, even though she can’t resist a good glass of wine. She likes to climb Pinnacle Mountain, fish and volunteers at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Robinson Auditorium, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Guild, Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts and Bryant Civitan Club.
Dr. Azhar agrees that it is important to rekindle interest in old hobbies or cultivate new ones. She offers several other pieces of advice. “Remain involved with people around you, whether at church, a community center or with family, friends and neighbors. It is important also to eat a variety of foods and, if possible, eat with other people. Remain active physically, even if it just involves walking.”