The age of the super-centenarians

The prospect of extreme old age is changing the way we live. What are we going to do about it?
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

America's oldest person died again.

Mary Josephine Ray was 114 at her passing. She was born in 1895, before Henry Ford built his first car. The new "champ," however, is just three months younger. So expect to see this headline again.

The Gerontology Research Group calls people like Ms. Ray "supercentenarians," verified as being at least 110. The center's record number of such people was 87. Its most recent total is 76.

(Marie K. Lyons was a super-centenarian, according to the GRG, from which this picture is taken.)

But that number is expected to rise quickly. Records from the relevant period are better. The center is getting better at identifying people. And people are just living longer.

What does it take to reach an extreme old age? Less than ever before. One of my on neighbors is 96. She attends church regularly, just had a new roof put on her house, and is (as they say) "sharp as a tack."

The prospect of extreme old age is changing the way we live. My own block has sprouted a bunch of porch ramps -- the one for my 96-year old friend is just the latest of these. Care for the extremely old is getting easier -- my friend just has a nurse in once in a while.

May is Older Americans month. Some 6.2 Americans over 65 were in the labor force at the end of 2008, and 7.3 million were taking some form of adult education class back in 2004. You can bet the census starting this month will find more such fun facts to know and tell.

Question is, what are we going to do about such facts? What are you going to be doing on your centennial? Chances are increasing you won't be spending it in your grave.

Time to start thinking about it.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards