In 2023, 30,000 French people will be 100 years old or over, three times more than in 1970. A constantly increasing figure that raises various issues such as access to care, staying at home or even the digital divide. Meeting with four centenarians from Ile-de-France who intend to remain independent as long as possible.
Christian Chenay is an atypical senior, to say the least. For him, there is no debate on the retirement age because at almost 102 years old, this Val-de-Marnais continues to practice as a doctor. A decision taken at the time of his official retirement, as he says: “When I turned 65, I decided to continue my activity as a general practitioner because there were not enough doctors in Chevilly-Larue, it had become a medical desert.“.
Today, Christian Chenay receives his patients for a few hours a day in his office, even if he confides that he favors teleconsultations. “I serve as a little filler to Doctolib“, laughs the centenarian.
For the oldest doctor in France, his professional activity has contributed to his good health. “When we get older, we must keep a physical and intellectual activity, which protects against the loss of cognition. If I hadn’t continued exercising, I would have invested more in one of my passions.“, testifies Doctor Chenay. “I’m lucky to still be in good health, that’s why I’ll stop exercising the day my memory fails“, he continues.
In France, the population is ageing. According to INSEE, by 2040, more than a quarter of French people will be 65 or older. For Christian Chenay, these figures invite us to think or rethink the place of seniors in our society. “When we see that there is a lack of people in all sectors, we should be able to ‘use’ the elderly. I think in particular in voluntary activities“, explains this former radiologist who accepts his age with philosophy: “It’s quite exciting to have a long career like mine because I’m lucky to have followed entire lives“.
At 100 and a half years old, Anne Galey is not of this opinion: “I hate being told that it’s a beautiful age“Erudite and with a strong character, this lifelong Parisian does not like her age, to the point of having refused a distinction offered by the City of Paris to all centenarians.”I’m not a star, if I’m that age, it’s not my fault, it came like that. But now it’s too much, it’s not a gift“, she confides. Very attached to her independence, Anne Galey has the feeling of having become a burden for those around her: “It’s hard to grow old because you lose your abilities little by little and you always need someone.”
For the one, who, at 24, traveled alone in Latin America, it was unthinkable to leave her home in the 11th arrondissement, even after having had a bad fall three months ago. “I know people who are in EPHAD and who are very happy there, but personally I would not have wanted to. I really like solitude and maintaining my autonomy was essential, even after my return from the hospital.“, she insists. Recently, the centenarian has therefore been accompanied on a daily basis, from sunrise to sunset, by a life assistant.
In addition to her many readings, Anne Galey practices a sporting activity: “I have been doing yoga for 40 years, and I still do today. It’s very important, you have to move all the time. And yoga allows me to move without really moving“.
One of the great difficulties of seniors today concerns access to care. If Anne Galey confides that she does not encounter any particular difficulties in Paris, this is not the case for all seniors in the Ile-de-France.
In Domont, in the Val-d’Oise, Jeannine Leboulk is blowing her 100 on May 4e candle. Accompanied by her daughter Marie-Claude during this special day, she claims to experience a real obstacle course when it comes to treatment. “It’s a disaster, all the doctors have retired, and for months I couldn’t find anyone to treat mum.“, confides his daughter.
If the situation has finally managed to resolve, it is not without counting on Jeannine Leboulk herself: “Do you know that I have a superpower? I know how to stop the fire.” With this gift of cutting fire that she discovered at the age of 70, she was able to heal herself after a shoulder burn.
Born in Paris and raised in Auvergne until she was seven years old by a nanny, this former bank employee is still haunted by memories of the war. “I have two vivid memories. I remember once when a German took me up a whole floor with his submachine gun pointed at me. But I especially remember going swimming a few times at the Drancy swimming pool, and seeing Jews, hearing them screaming…“, she says, still moved by this memory.
For six years, she has lived in this autonomous residence, which allows her to combine autonomy and sociability. “I would not have been left alone because I like to have contact with people, because I still have all my head!“, laughs this hyper-connected grandmother. From her smartphone or her computer, she stays in touch with her three daughters and her grandchildren: “I think it helps me a lot to age well to be able to have these regular contacts.“.
Three floors down resides one of his friends from the Autonomous Residence, Father Thomas. He lived in Paris from his birth in 1922 until he was 17 and entered the seminary. Very committed to people with disabilities, Father Thomas has made many trips.
At 100, he appreciates his great age: “I have friendships up and down. And all these friendships support me and help me to live very happily“Today, faith, reading and walking are an important part of Father Thomas’ daily life, which he says helps him age well.”It has become difficult for me to walk, but that’s normal at my age! I can’t frolic anymore like when I was a scout“, laughs the chaplain, who continues to officiate every month at the Hélène Moutet residence.
While the number of people reaching the age of 100 or more should continue to increase, according to INSEE scenarios, the autonomy and aging well of centenarians are still little addressed by the authorities. Thus, 6% of women and 2% of men born in 1940 should reach the age of 100 in the next few years. For people born in 1970, the figure could one day reach 20%.