The number of centenarians in the U.S. is growing rapidly, according to a newreport from the U.S. Census Bureau. During the 1990s, the ranks of centenariansnearly doubled, from about 37,000 counted at the start of the decade, to morethan an estimated 70,000 today. And analysts at the Census suggest that thisper-decade doubling trend may continue, with the centenarian population possiblyreaching 834,000 by the middle of the next century.
The report, funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the NationalInstitutes of Health, does point out significant problems with information onthe true ages of people 95 and older, though the data are becoming more accuratewith improvements in birth records. But as scientists work to improve dataquality, the trends in the growth and characteristics of the very elderly arenow becoming evident, say NIA experts, as researchers intensify their study ofthis population.
"We are increasingly interested in the lives of these remarkable people," notesRichard M. Suzman, Ph.D., Associate Director of the NIA for Behavioral andSocial Research. "The growing numbers of extremely old people give us theopportunity to examine their lives in more detail. By doing so, we will be ableto discover the genetic, medical, social, and behavioral factors contributing tolongevity and robustness in very advanced age."
Suzman points out that scientists will be watching mortality rates of peopleover 50 very carefully to see if projections about the growth in the elderlypopulation, including centenarians, can be refined. The Census estimates range from projecting a lowof 265,000 centenarians in the year 2050 to a high-end calculation of about 4.2million. Its 'middle series' projection is 834,000.
According to the report, the centenarians share many of the characteristics thatCensus and other researchers have noted for people age 85 and above. Mostsignificantly:
The report is the latest in a series of joint demographic projects by the CensusBureau and the NIA to characterize the elderly population and examine itsdynamic growth in the past and as projected into the next century. It wasprepared by Victoria A. Velkoff, who heads the Aging Studies Branch at theCensus Bureau.
Specifically on the very elderly, the NIA has supported other research projects,including a Massachusetts study of centenarians by Thomas Perls, M.D., M.P.H.,of Harvard University and a study of centenarians in Europe and China by JamesVaupel, Ph.D., of Duke University and the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
Materials provided by NIH-National Institute On Aging. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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