Centenarians Fastest Growing Group in U.S. Society
Watkins, Robert, THE JOURNAL RECORD
Despite monumental advances in medicine and science, Americans - and others in the world - face untold challenges from disease and accidental death.
In this country alone, tens of thousands die every year in auto accidents. As a nation, we are shooting more people in a month than most of the civilized western world kill in a year.
Wonder of it all, we are actually growing older. And this should be good news to Willard Scott, NBC's inestimable weatherman. New data published by the Census Bureau and the National Institute on Aging reveal a widening pool of centenarians for Scott to salute during his segment of the morning Today show.
Although the number of those reaching the 100-year milestone still is relatively small, the evidence indicates that centenarians now are the fastest growing group in American society.
The interagency study puts the current figure at 25,000. By the year 2000 however, the country is expected to have 100,000 people who are 100 or over.
National Institute of Aging scientists attribute greater deaths due to heart disease and cancer, along with a trend toward better health practices. Nutrition has been improved, for example, and more people are doing less smoking.
There are mixed messages in all this. An increasing number of the "oldest old" means that more money must be found to meet their special needs in the future.
According to the findings, centenarians are mostly female and mostly white. About half live in households other than nursing homes. And, for the most part, they are poor.
Nearly 90 percent of the centenarians were said to have incomes of $5,000 or less per year. Three-fourths of them were identifed as native Americans.
There have been other studies made of this oldest group in the population. Experts at National Institute of Aging, however, characterized the earlier information, most of it unpublished, as "grossly inadequate."
Even the new data, they say, leaves many unanswered questions about the health conditions and economic resources available to the centenarians. …