Centenarians Proliferate, and Live Longer

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Centenarians Proliferate, and Live Longer

WASHINGTON — Move over, millennials. The centenarians are coming.
The number of Americans age 100 and older — those born during Woodrow Wilson’s administration and earlier — is up by 44 percent since 2000, federal health officials reported Thursda…
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Centenarians Proliferate, and Live Longer

Centenarians Proliferate, and Live Longer

WASHINGTON — Move over, millennials. The centenarians are coming.

The number of Americans age 100 and older — those born during Woodrow Wilson’s administration and earlier — is up by 44 percent since 2000, federal health officials reported Thursday.

There were 72,197 of them in 2014, up from 50,281 in 2000, according to the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1980, they numbered about 15,000.

Even demographers seemed impressed. “There is certainly a wow factor here, that there are this many people in the United States over 100 years old,” said William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution. “Not so long ago in our society, this was somewhat rare.”

Not only are there more centenarians, but they are living even longer. Death rates declined for all demographic groups of centenarians — white, black, Hispanic, female, male — in the six years ending in 2014, the report said.

The Secret to a Long Life
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The Secret to a Long Life
Here’s the secret to a long life, from those who’ve lived them. By DEBORAH ACOSTA, JACQUELINE BAYLON, NICOLE FINEMAN and AMY ZERBA on Publish Date December 25, 2015. Watch in Times Video »

Centenarians are an elite group. Most people born in 1900 did not live past 50. But chances of survival to such ripe ages have improved with the rise of vaccines and antibiotics, and improvements in hygiene, medical treatments and technology. There are exceptions: The explosion of opioid overdose deaths in recent years has erased progress for some groups, particularly young and middle-age whites.

Malvina Hunt, a resident of central New York, who turned 100 in October, said her secret was vigorous exercise. Every morning, she does leg lifts and rapid arm raises to get the blood flowing.

“Whatever muscle seems weak, I give it a little bit of touch-up,” she said.

She also bowls. “That gives me a good workout,” she said.

Now that it is winter, she does not venture out very much, except to the mailbox. But in summer, she spends a lot of time outside, gardening and mowing the lawn.

And she still works — as a greeter in a winery. She also helps build cartons used to ship wine.

“My motto was always, ‘If I could do it today, I’ll be able to do it tomorrow,’ ” she said. She said she knew two other centenarians, a friend from high school and a friend from college, both women.

Whites are driving the aging of America. In the last full census in 2010, the median age for whites was 42, far older than the Hispanic population, whose median age was 27.

Baby boomers, a large bulge in the population, have started to enter retirement and will soon be bumping up the numbers of the elderly to record levels. Experts are warning that the United States is unprepared to handle such large numbers of seniors, especially as the life expectancy of older people continues to rise.

“We are moving into a very different country this century,” Mr. Frey said. “It’s the very tip of the iceberg.”

Even for centenarians, life spans are growing longer. Death rates for centenarian women dropped 14 percent in the six years ending in 2014, to 36.5 per 100 women, and by 20 percent to 33.2 per 100 men.

Among racial and ethnic groups, Hispanic centenarians had the lowest death rate, 22.3 per 100 people, compared with 39.3 per 100 whites and 28.6 per 100 blacks.

Death rates from Alzheimer’s disease increased the most over the period of the report, up 119 percent from 2000 to 2014. Death rates from hypertension also jumped 88 percent over the period. Death rates for influenza and pneumonia fell by 48 percent, for stroke by 31 percent and for heart disease by 24 percent. Even so, heart disease remained the leading cause of death for centenarians in 2014.

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