More Americans living past 100 years of age, but why?

Centenarians in the United States are like struldbrugs in Luggnagg; still rare but they’re definitely there and their numbers are increasing – both in age and in quantity. According to the CDC’s Mortality Among Centenarians in the United States, 2000─2014 report, “the numbers of Americans aged 100 and over increased 43.6%, from 50,281 in 2000 to 72,197 in 2014.” Unlike struldbrugs, however, American centenarians have the benefit of death – and indeed as that population grows, deaths among them, do too. The following data was taken from the National Vital Statistics System:

·         Mortality among centenarians increased from 18,434 deaths to 25,914 (41%) in the 2000-2008 period and then dropped through 2014 for males and females.

·         Female deaths accounted for more than 82% of all deaths each year between 2000 through 2014.

·         Death rate for female centenarians increased 38.5 per 100 female centenarians in 2000 to 42.4 in 2008 (10%). The rate then dropped 14% through 2014.

·         Death rate for male centenarians increased from 29.2 in 2000 to 41.3 in 2008 (41%). The rate then dropped 20%, to 33.2 in 2014.

·         Death rates for non-Hispanic white centenarians were highest among the three race and Hispanic origin groups examined, followed by non-Hispanic black and Hispanic centenarians.

·         Mortality rates for centenarians in the Hispanic population increased from 17.4 in 2000 to 28.9 (66%) in the 2000-2006 period.

·         Mortality rates for centenarians in the non-Hispanic white and black populations increased 13% and 20% respectively in the 2000-2008 period. The rates then dropped 13% for non-Hispanic white and 15% for non-Hispanic black centenarians by 2014.

·         Mortality rates for centenarians in all racial and ethnic groups examined decreased through 2014.

·         Mortality rates for centenarians increased 119% for Alzheimer’s disease, 88% for hypertension, 34% for chronic lower respiratory diseases (CLRD), and 33% for unintentional injuries in the 2000-2014 period.

·         Rates dropped 48% for influenza and pneumonia, 31% for stroke, and 24% for heart disease within the same period.

Top 5 causes of death among centenarians

 

2000

2014

Male

1.       Heart disease.

2.       Influenza and pneumonia.

3.       Stroke.

4.       Cancer.

5.       CLRD.

6.       Heart disease.

7.       Cancer.

8.       Influenza and pneumonia.

9.       Stroke

10.   Alzheimer’s disease.

Female

1.       Heart disease.

2.       Stroke.

3.       Influenza and pneumonia.

4.       Alzheimer’s disease.

5.       Cancer.

1.       Heart disease.

2.       Alzheimer’s disease.

3.       Stroke.

4.       Influenza and pneumonia.

5.       Cancer.

All

1.       Heart disease.

2.       Stroke.

3.       Influenza and pneumonia.

4.       Cancer.

5.       Alzheimer’s disease.

6.       Heart disease.

7.       Alzheimer’s disease.

8.       Stroke.

9.       Cancer.

10.   Influenza and pneumonia.

 

Now as to why more people in the United States are living past their 100s, “It's really a sign of continued increase in life expectancy and longevity and a sign of public health efforts and modern medicine over the last two centuries that have contributed to this,” chief of geriatric and palliative medicine at Northwell Health, in New Hyde Park, New York Dr. Maria Torroella Carney said. “In the 1900s, we had sanitation and clean water efforts that really helped. Prevention of maternal death and child maternal injuries and accidents, too. The development of vaccinations and antibiotics in that century really decreased mortality. Then in 2000, vaccines grew more: zoster vaccines [for shingles], influenza and the expansion of use of the use influenza vaccines, pneumonia vaccines.”

But in a more philosophical sense, why would you want to live to such an old age? If you were told you could live 100 years and asked what you would do in that time, you might talk for hours on end describing all the things you would do, all the people you would meet, all the places you would visit, all the things you would learn, and all the knowledge you would accrue – especially from sharing with other centenarians. A more realistic view, though, would be that you would have no remembrance of anything but what they learned and observed in their youth and middle-age, and even that is very imperfect; that you would lose your teeth and hair; have at no distinction of taste, but eat and drink whatever you can get, without relish or appetite; that you would forget the common appellation of things, and the names of persons, even of those who are their nearest friends and relations; and could not amuse yourself with reading, because your memory would not serve to carry them from the beginning of a sentence to the end. There surely are fates worse than death – like having to wear adult diapers.

Related: Why won’t your aging parent wear adult diapers?