Her doctor, Dr. Mark Lachs, is director of geriatrics for New York Presbyterian Health Care System and the author of a new book, "Treat Me, Not My Age." Lachs says that while Reichert is probably blessed with a longevity gene, she also possesses a powerful trait called adaptive competence, which is proving to be a critical factor in successful aging.
"In lay terms, adaptive competence is the ability to bounce back from life's curveballs," Lachs told AOL News. "Helen exemplifies this ability."
Lachs is referring to curveballs in any aspect of life, be they medical, social, financial or psychological. People with adaptive competence have the ability to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and move on after a setback. He's had patients who have had devastating financial reversals and been crippled for life by them, and yet others with better adaptive competence who have been able to move on.
In terms of medical events, there are depressing statistics on mortality rates after hip fractures in the elderly. But Lachs says he's had patients who have recovered and had a good quality of life after this type of injury because they possessed this trait. In fact, Reichert was one of them.
"The loss of a loved one, bereavement, is of course a very serious psychological setback," Lachs said. "I've had patients who have mourned pathologically for the rest of their lives, and others who have extended their social network and even found love again. People with adaptive competence seem to have physiological and psychological reserves that enable them to move forward."
A recent study by Dr. Rebecca Levy at Yale University validates Lachs' theory that people with strong adaptive competence age more successfully than what he refers to as the "pessimists or whiners" of the world.
Levy studied the longevity of people in their 50s as a function of their perceptions about aging. She asked them if they agreed with statements like "As I get older I am less useful" and "Things keep getting worse as I get older."
"Levy found that people who agreed with these statements, even after controlled for illness and medical problems, died an average of seven years sooner," Lachs says. "This is an amazing piece of data that supports the importance of adaptive competence in aging."
Lachs is clear that he is not talking about longevity for longevity's sake, but aging successfully and having a good quality of life no matter what your age is.
"I have no interest in having an 110-year-old patient that is completely bedridden," he said. "That is as big a failure of modern medicine as having a 40-year-old die of breast cancer or a 50-year-old die of cardiac arrest."
Lachs' patients like Reichert are a compelling example of what it means to age successfully because they still have a good quality of life and a strong social network. Scientific data also shows that social connections are another key component in living longer, better.
While genetic make-up is not something you can change, social connections and your attitude toward life and life's curveballs is something that you can.
"You can't fix your genes, but attitude is something you have control over, and that's why adaptive competence is so compelling," Lachs says. "Helen is a glass-half-full kind of person, as are many successful agers."