America is aging. Not only is the average age of the population gradually increasing as the large baby boomer cohort gets older, the number of centenarians (those living to age 100) is also increasing notably. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control, the number of Americans above the age of 100 has increased more than 43 percent, from 50,281 a decade and a half ago to 72,197 in 2014. The CDC report also highlights that death rates for centenarians increased from 2000 through 2008 and then decreased through 2014, although the reasons for this sudden trend reversal are not clear.
The report is titled Mortality Among Centenarians in the United States, 2000-2014, and also breaks down the data by gender and ethnicity to dig deeper into sociodemographic trends.
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Highlights from new CDC report on centenarian Americans
One notable finding in the CDC report was that death rates for centenarians moved up from 2000 through 2006 for Hispanics, and were up from 2000 through 2008 for both the non-Hispanic white and black populations; the death rate for Hispanic centenarians zoomed up 66%, from 17.4 in 2000 to 28.9 in 2006, but then decreased 23% to 22.3 in 2014. Somewhat surprisingly, the death rate then declined from 2008 through 2014 for all racial and ethnic groups.
Another key finding was that the top five causes of death among centenarians in 2014 were heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, cancer, and influenza and pneumonia.
A worrisome statistic in the report was that death rates for Alzheimer’s disease among those over 1q00 years old shot up a dramatic 119% between 2000 and 2014.
Statement from well-known gerontologist
Commenting on the CDC data, Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, chief of geriatric and palliative medicine at Northwell Health, noted: “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.”
She went on to point out that life expectancy is up significantly over the last century and change, when you consider a child born in 1900 had an average life expectancy of 40. By the turn of the next century, the average life expectancy had moved all the way up to the mid-70s.
“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,” Carney explained.
Fewer people smoking cigarettes and various policies to promote clean air and water that began in the 1990s have also contributed to the overall increase in life expectancy.
“Then in 2000, vaccines grew more: zoster vaccines [for shingles], influenza and the expansion of use of the use influenza vaccines, pneumonia vaccines,” led to a reduction in illnesses that more frequently impact older Americans, Carney noted.
She also highlighted other medical advances probably contributing to longer life spans, such as new antibiotics and the development of artificial joints, dialysis, and improvements in transplant medications that improve quality and duration of life post surgery.
Carney sums it all up: “Whether, or how much modern medicine has contributed to centenarians we don’t know, but all these are public health efforts and modern technologies that are potential contributors.”