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Uncommonwealth: At 101, Lexington woman is an example of Kentucky's long lived population

ctruman@herald-leader.comJune 2, 2014 

Carmie Edith Trammell Brown was born in Louisville on May 19, 1913.

She is still going strong.

Recently she celebrated her 101st birthday at Portofino with family and friends and fettuccine Alfredo with chicken. She also enjoyed a complimentary tiramisu.

Brown is the oldest of six siblings, four of whom have died. Her brother, Morris Trammell, is 94 and lives in the Henry Clay Boulevard area. Although Brown's husband John died in 1986, their daughter Betty Jo Gardner, 81, lives in Hilton Head. Their son Bill, born in 1940, died in 2005.

Brown attributes her longevity to living clean — no smoking, no drinking, eating well and walking constantly: She never had a driver's license, having once gotten spooked when her husband tried to teach her to drive a car.

So she walked. When she was a child in the 200 block of Owsley Avenue, she walked to take her younger siblings to church on Ashland Avenue. When her husband operated a store on Winchester Road at Liberty Road — across the street from what is now Charlie's Fresh Seafood — she walked there as well.

"I just lived an ordinary, calm homekeeper life," Brown said. "I was always busy."

Even now she keeps active walking around the ranch-style house belonging to her niece, Pam Rainey, near Lane Allen Road in south Lexington. She still dresses fashionably — in slacks and a patterned long-sleeve shirt, with shiny black mocs on her feet.

Every Friday she goes to the beauty shop to get coiffed. She rarely uses either a walker or cane.

"She's in better shape than I am," Rainey said. "Her joints are good. She's a good woman. She never drank, never smoked, always went to church."

Brown lived at the Lafayette retirement home for three years, but after her younger sister Opal Rainey died, Brown's niece Pam Rainey invited her to live in her house.

"She and my mother were very close," Rainey said.

She likes to read religious literature such as that authored by evangelist Billy Graham. She and Rainey like to watch programs on KET and Turner Classic Movies — those with little violence and rough language.

Brown has not had many of the problems that plague the older population: no knee or hip replacements for her. She has a pacemaker, and that is the sum of her medical interventions.

The 2010 census said that Kentucky had just under 500 centenarians. It did not measure the super-centenarians — those who are 110 and older. But Brown's profile fits perfectly with other long-lived individuals in Kentucky.

Linda Van Eldik, director of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky, said that staying active physically, socially and mentally is important.

Staying active physically "can be as simple as walking, taking the stairs rather than the elevator," Van Eldik said. "It can be social interaction as well — playing chess with a friend, going shopping."

Centenarians "really do seem to have some common traits — positive energy, positive level of happiness," Van Eldik said. "It's like that old saying, 'Don't sweat the small stuff.' They realize they have lived a long life, and the small stuff isn't as important."

Centenarians tend not to let themselves get depressed by health issues.

"They say that whatever is good for you is good for your brain," Van Eldik said.

Having a heart-healthy diet reduces your risk of dementia, and many of the centenarians followed by the Sanders center tend to have a healthier lifestyle.

In Okinawa, which has a high number of centenarians, residents tend to eat a low calorie, low-salt diet with plenty of fish and vegetables. They are unlikely to smoke and tend to have a spiritual outlook that colors their thinking, Van Eldik said.

People 90 and older are the fastest-growing segment of the nation's population. Claudia Kawas of the University of California-Irvine has studied the habits of 14,000 residents of a California retirement community to see what made a difference in longevity.

Her project is called "90+" and was recently showcased on 60 Minutes.

What did the long-lived people have in common?

■ Exercise. As little as 15 minutes a day helps.

■ Stay active. Socializing or engaging in organized activities is associated with longevity.

■ Alcohol. Moderate drinking of any kind of alcohol, not just red wine.

■ Maintain a healthy weight. While being obese is never healthy, being a little overweight going into old age tops being underweight, according to Kawas' study.

Kawas is learning that some of those in her study who were cognitively slipping did not have Alzheimer's, but had rather had a series of microstrokes.

Meanwhile, Brown is considering, with her niece, what to do for her 102nd birthday.

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman

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