Characteristics of 32 Supercentenarians

Emily A. Schoenhofen, BA; Diego F. Wyszynski, MD, PhD; Stacy Andersen, BS; JaeMi Pennington, BS; Robert Young, BA; Dellara F. Terry, MD, MPH; Thomas T. Perls, MD, MPH

Disclosures

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2006;54(8):1237-1240. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Objectives: To report phenotypic characteristics of 32 age-validated supercentenarians.
Design: Case series.
Setting: U.S.-based recruitment effort.
Participants: Thirty-two supercentenarians.
Measurements: Multiple forms of proof were used to validate age claims. Sociodemographic, activities of daily living, and medical history data were collected.
Results: Age range was 110 to 119. Fifty-nine percent had Barthel Index scores in the partially to totally dependent range, whereas 41% required minimal assistance or were independent. Few subjects had a history of clinically evident vascular-related diseases, including myocardial infarction (n=2, 6%) and stroke (n=4, 13%). Twenty-two percent (n=7) were taking medications for hypertension. Twenty-five percent (n=8) had a history of cancer (all cured). Diabetes mellitus (n=1, 3%) and Parkinson's disease (n=1, 3%) were rare. Osteoporosis (n=14, 44%) and cataract history (n=28, 88%) were common.
Conclusion: Data collected thus far suggest that supercentenarians markedly delay and even escape clinical expression of vascular disease toward the end of their exceptionally long lives. A surprisingly substantial proportion of these individuals were still functionally independent or required minimal assistance.

The remarkable growth in the number of centenarians (aged≥100) has garnered significant attention over the past 20 or so years. Consequently, a number of centenarian studies have emerged, ranging in emphasis from demographic to genetic. Recently, an even more extreme group, supercentenarians, or people aged 110 and older, has begun to yield sufficient numbers to warrant descriptive studies.

Great effort and diligence is required to locate living supercentenarians and validate their age claims. Claims of ages beyond that of the oldest well-accepted age of 122 years (Madame Jeanne Calment) regularly surface in the media, but these are invariably unsubstantiated.[1,2,3] The U.S. census listed 1,400 supercentenarians in 2000 (about 1 per 200,000),[4] but an e-mail based effort facilitated by the Gerontology Research Group (GRG, https://www.grg.org) that monitors and validates claims of age 110 and older estimates the number of living supercentenarians in the United States to be approximately 60 to 70 (or approximately 1 supercentenarian per 6 million people) and 250 to 300 worldwide. One study reported Medicare data indicating that, in 2000, there were 32,920 centenarians and that, of these, 105 (0.3%) were age 110 and older.[5] One study estimated that seven in 1,000 people born at the turn of the last century lived to become centenarians and that one in 100,000 lived to be 110 or older.[6]

Because of the efforts of the GRG and the International Database on Longevity (https://www.supercentenarians.org), it has become possible to go beyond single anecdotal case descriptions to formal case series. Reports of supercentenarians have only examined the demography, identification, and age-verification of these individuals.[7,8,9,10] Here, the first phenotypic characterization of a case series of 32 supercentenarians is reported.

Centenarians have been found to exhibit marked delays in functional decline and in most cases age-related lethal diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and stroke.[11] Compression of functional decline toward the relative end of their long lives might be a prerequisite or at least a marker of the ability to live to 100. In a sample of 105 centenarians, 88% were functionally independent at a mean age of 92.[12] Such compression of disability is even more pronounced in male centenarians.[13] Early experience with supercentenarians has led to the hypothesis that such a delay must be extended at least through age 100 for a person to survive to age 110 or older.

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