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Lifestyle diseases aren't a common cause of death for centenarians

June 6, 2014

A study in the U.K. showed that people who live to be older than 100 are more likely to die from infections than diseases caused by poor lifestyle choices. According to an article by the BBC, the number of centenarians could reach 3 million by 2050. The research will be used to improve anticipatory care for this demographic and encourage healthy aging.

Analyzing the data
Researchers from Kings College London and the Sussex Community NHS Trust collected information from England's Office for National Statistics to compare causes of death between people over age 100 and younger senior citizens in a 10-year time span. The population-based retrospective observational study accounted for people who passed away between 2001 and 2010, excluding those who died as a result of violence or an accident. The groups were divided between seniors ages 100 and over and seniors ages 80 to 99. The study looked at the place of death, whether it was a hospital, nursing home, residential care home, their own home or elsewhere. Information was also gleaned regarding age, gender, usual residence, year of death, marital status, underlying cause of death and contributing causes of death. 

Drawing conclusions
Results determined the number of people who lived to be 100 years old increased by 56 percent between 2001 and 2010. Additionally, most of the people who made it to that age were women. The majority of subjects passed away in a care home or hospital. The most common causes of death for the age group were pneumonia, old age and frailty while they were least likely to die from cancer or heart disease. These are considered illnesses caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices, because risk is increased by a poor diet, lack of exercise, and the consumption of both alcohol and tobacco.

Because the study is retrospective, researchers wish there was more information that could be analyzed. For example, old age as a cause of death is vague. Researchers are also interested in learning what type of care centenarians prefer.

According to the National Institutes of Health, many lifestyle diseases can also be inherited through family lines, such as arthritis, blood clots, high cholesterol, stroke, diabetes and dementia. It can be helpful to determine what illnesses you are at risk for based on family history, so you know which lifestyle choices may be most harmful to you.