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February 11, 2008

CentenariansMetaphor Becomes Reality

Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(3):262-263. doi:10.1001/archinte.168.3.262

And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died. —Genesis 5:27

The phenomenon of living 100 years and longer has been recognized for most of human history as an unusual and rare event. For the most part, these “centenarians” have been considered biological curiosities, worthy of passing media commentary and occasionally exploitation for political purposes.1 In the United States, each new centenarian still receives a signed letter from the Office of the President on their 100th birthday. The term centenarian has become a metaphor for a poorly understood and sometimes frightening phenomenon of a very long human life. Perhaps one of the most profound and significant demographic shifts of this new century is and will continue to be the bulge in the population of older adults. The fastest growing cohort of older Americans are now those 85 years and older. The United States currently has over 55 000 centenarians, one of every 10 000 persons presently alive. Imagine the White House paperwork when, as conservatively predicted, the number of centenarians reaches 800 000 by the year 2050!2

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