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Health

Secrets of the supercentenarians: Life begins at 100

Not Exactly Rocket ScienceBy Ed YongSeptember 5, 2009 9:00 PM

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I was browsing a copy of New Scientist in the supermarket today and realised that I actually have a feature in it, having completely forgotten that it was coming out this week! This one's on the fate of the oldest old - people aged 100 or over. This is one of the fastest rising demographics in the world and their numbers will surely swell even further with ageing populations and advances in modern medicine. The feature looks at what happens when people reach these extreme ages and what happens to them when they do. It ended up being surprisingly optimistic. Far from being a helpless drain on society, there's growing evidence tha ta substantial proportion of centenarians lead fulfilling and independent lives. Indeed, I've previously written about a study involving everyone in Denmark born in 1905, which found that the loss of independence that comes with age is balanced out by the fact that the sickest people die earlier. The upshot is that the proportion of people who can take care of themselves remains steady and extreme longevity doesn't lead to extreme disability. The piece looks at what happens to the two sexes in extreme old age and why women are more likely to get there but why the men who do tend to be fitter. I consider the diseases that affect the oldest old - cancer, chronic diseases and Alzheimer's are rare, but other forms of dementia and arthritis are common. And I look at our growing knowledge of the "centenarian genome" and what it tells us about the ageing process. Hope you enjoy it.

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