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Disability Stronger Predictor of Longevity Than Disease Is
Date:2/11/2008

Centenarian study also found men who lived past 100 were healthier than female peers

MONDAY, Feb. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Among Americans living to the ripe old age of 100 and counting, it is the ability to delay the onset of disability, and not the onset of disease, that seems to secure a long life.

A new study reveals that 32 percent of centenarians struggle with age-related illness for 15 years or more before hitting the 100 mark. Yet mental or physical disability is no more prevalent among this group than among centenarians who stave off disease until later in life.

"One would have guessed that to get to extreme old age, you'd have to avoid or delay disease," said study co-author Dr. Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center. "But some very old people with significant illness still live independently. And the message here is that one shouldn't jump to the conclusion that disease equals disability."

Perl's study is published in the Feb. 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

In it, he and his colleagues noted that men and women over the age of 85 are the fastest-growing segment of the American population.

A 2001 U.S. Census Bureau report further reveals that, as of 2000, a little more than 50,000 centenarians were living in the United States -- roughly one in every 5,578 people. By 2050, this figure will rocket up to 834,000 Americans living past 100.

To explore this phenomenon, the authors analyzed health history questionnaires regarding 739 men and women between the ages of 97 and 119. A little more than 70 percent of the participants were women, and almost all were white.

Almost one-third of the centenarians indicated that they had initially developed at least one age-related disease before the age of 85.

Yet the researchers found that by the time they reached the 100-year mark, these so-called "
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