Centenarians in the US are now more common than ever and mortality trends in this age group are rapidly changing, a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown.
The report, published on Thursday, January 21, was authored by Dr. Jianquan Xu, from the National Center for Health Statistics, and tracked the population of those aged 100 and upwards, beginning with the year 2000.
It was determined that the number of those who reach this venerable age has climbed by over 43%, from 50,281 back in 2000, to 72,197 two years ago.
As more and more people are reaching this milestone, there is also a higher death incidence among centenarians: a decade and a half ago, annual mortality rates were of 18,434 individuals, whereas in the last couple of years they have climbed to 25,914 individuals.
On the other hand, the probability that an average person in this age group would die in the immediate future has been declining between 2008 and 2014, by approximately 20% among male centenarians, and by around 14% among their female counterparts.
There are also significant changes regarding the leading causes of death encountered among those who live to be 100 years old or more.
At the beginning of the study, the most common mortality factors were cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, the flu, malignant tumors and Alzheimer’s disease.
Nowadays, heart disease and stroke remain the deadliest conditions in this age bracket, but the second most widespread mortality driver is Alzheimer’s disease.
In fact, the number of centenarians who die as a direct consequence of this type of dementia has increased more than twofold in the last decade and a half, climbing from 3.8% to 8.5%.
According to Holly Prigerson, professor of geriatrics at New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College, the most likely explanation for the growing mortality associated with progressive brain degeneration is the fact that in many cases elderly people whose physical fitness has allowed them to live up to 100 or more are betrayed by their own mind, whose decline they can no longer forestall.
While advances in medicine have allowed many cancer patients to enter remission and overcome a condition which was commonly associated with an implacable death verdict, little progress has been achieved in countering the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Meanwhile, the prevalence of deaths triggered by pneumonia and influenza has greatly diminished in the last few years, falling from 7.4% back in 2000, to 4.1% nowadays. As a result, this mortality factor, which used to be the third most widespread among centenarians, has now dropped to the 5th spot.
All in all, Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, MD chief at Northwell Health’s division of geriatric and palliative medicine, believes these latest trends are indicative of the progress that has been made in the healthcare industry.
Major improvements were brought about thanks to the development of new vaccines and antibiotics, and also because of extensive campaigns discouraging people from being sedentary, smoking or eating inadequately.
Moreover, the growing ranks of centenarians are also correlated with the significant rise in average life expectancy across the United Sates, from around 67 years among men and 73 years among women around half a century ago, to approximately 76 years among men and 81 years among women nowadays.
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