What is a Supercentenarian

When a portion of humans celebrate their 100th birthday and have thus avoided the inevitable arrival of death a good 20 years beyond the time most will, such individuals are labeled as centenarians. So what comes to mind when you hear the term, super-centenarian?  Do you perhaps envision a 100-year-old crime fighter from the planet Krypton donned in a cape that can still leap over tall buildings in a single bound provided the humidity doesn’t affect his or her rheumatism?

If so, that would be incorrect, no matter how amusing such a mental image may be. A super-centenarian is, however, decidedly a member of quite an elite group, for this term is what describes a person that has managed to live at least 110 years. Thanks to the passage of time itself and hence more accurate documentation, birth records of very old people are not as questionable as they once were. There was a time when one’s longevity was hearsay at best and thus a person’s claim of age was oftentimes either a “best guess” or, in the worst instances, an outright lie designed to impress others. Now, and in light of the fact that authenticated records of birth have been mainstream since the late 19th century, it makes it much more difficult for someone to randomly add years to their actual age. Of course, in the opposite scenario, there will likely always be people such as celebrities that will try to fool the public by subtracting a few years.

At this writing, the oldest authenticated super-centenarian’s lifespan of 122 years and 164 days is held by a French woman named Jeanne Calment, who was born on February 21, 1875 and died on August 4, 1997.

However, in April of 2009, a woman in the village of Prishakhtinsk, Kazakhstan named Sakhan Dosova was said to have just celebrated her 130th birthday. Her passport and identification card had her birth date listed as March 27, 1879! Even old records dating to 1926 from the now-defunct Soviet Union listed her age as 46, which would coincide correctly, provided they were printed before her 47th birthday on March 27th of that year. She died just a few days later after slipping on the floor of her bathroom and breaking her hip. Unfortunately, the claim of her age was never officially satisfied by international standards of measuring.

Longevity among mammals, which include humans, is controlled by genes. The workings within a person’s body will only function for a finite amount of time. Any significant extension to this more or less established set of values is considered a rarity. For example, the average lifespan of a dog is about 15 years, but the oldest dog (as of 2009) passed away at 29 years. Similarly, cats live about 20 years and the record lifespan is 38 years. Since the average human lives about 78 years, the equivalent age of a super-centenarian to these respective animals would be about 145-148 years. Thus far, a human has never reached such an age. This is likely attributed to the fact that humans; even those among the rare segment that live 110 years or more, lead more stressful lives than dogs or cats.

The odds of a human being living 115 years is about one in two billion. Raise this to age 120, and they drop to one in ten billion. Finally, the odds of a human living 130 years is a staggering one in a trillion!

Nevertheless, with advances in medical science, there is no question that people are routinely living longer than ever. As of July, 2010, the Centenarian, a British publication, estimated that there are some 450,000 people over the age of 100 worldwide. In regard to super-centenarians past 110, this is greatly reduced to somewhere between 300 and 450.

A common theme to making it into this special group of people appears to be related to embracing a lifestyle of moderation, even with regard to alcohol, fatty foods, and smoking. But for now, most people won’t have the opportunity to find out.