Caring for Centenarians Requires Self Care by Family Caregivers, Too

Living to be 100 years old was not something our grandparents dreamed was a reality.

What we are seeing now is that more and more seniors are living to be 100 and even longer.

What was once a very small club, usually occupied by people living in a ‘blue zone,’ has become a more common occurrence.

You may have heard that the world’s oldest person just died at the age of 117!

You may even know a centenarian.

You may be caring for a centenarian!

According to the 2010 US Census, there were 53,364 centenarians. There continues to be much interest in studying those who reach 100 years and beyond. We all want to know their philosophy of life, what they do, what they eat and their secrets to longevity.

Facts About Centenarians

Centenarians are the fastest growing segment of our population. Yes, it’s a small segment but the numbers are growing remarkably quickly.

We are all aging and can attribute the number of centenarians rising due to improved medical care, as well as the drop in childhood death rates beginning in the 1900s.

100 year olds have lived through many challenges, such as world wars, the great depression, and the industrialization of our country. They have also marveled at life changing technology innovations, including television, radio and computers.

Those people who are called the oldest old have many commonalities but also many differences. Let’s look at what researchers have found out about our nation’s centenarians.

  • The number of centenarians has more than doubled every decade since the 1950s.
  • There are more women age 100 or higher than men.
  • Men who reach 100 are healthier than women who do.
  • Centenarian women are more likely to suffer broken bones than men.
  • 90 % of centenarians are disability-free until around age 93.
  • Men had fewer chronic ailments than women of the same age, including incontinence or vision and hearing loss.
  • All centenarians were likely to have chronic, but non-fatal, diseases such as arthritis and diabetes.
  • Cause of death for centenarians is often listed as ‘old age’ and many die from pneumonia.
  • Fauja Singh was the first 100-year-old marathon runner!
  • Centenarians lived in a variety of settings – alone, in a household or a senior care facility, according to the US Census data.
  • Supercentenarians are those who live over 110 years.

Centenarians Give Secrets to Long Life

Many people who have reached 100 years have been asked often what they feel is the secret to their longevity. For each person asked, it seems a different answer emerges.

The common thread seems to be their mental outlook.

Centenarians all seem to share that they are active throughout their lives, they have remained positive no matter what situations life has brought their way, they have accepted loss and not let it stop them, and have a good sense of humor.

Here is a sample of centenarian’s varied responses about what allows them to age successfully:

  1. Have never smoked, ate light, worked in the sunshine, looked to the sky
  2. Staying active throughout life, doing leg squats at 102
  3. Laughter and happiness
  4. Are content with what they have; avoid smoking, drinking and vegetables
  5. Exercise, being optimistic
  6. Stay fit, dance and be cheerful
  7. Cold showers
  8. Takes no medications
  9. Don’t enjoy being with older people or dependent on others
  10. Eating more than 2 pounds of chocolate a week and smoking until she could no longer see to light it! Says wine, olive oil and sense of humor improved her longevity.

Centenarians will tell us we should not be afraid to try new things, learn from failure and celebrate successes.

How Can Caregivers Live Longer?

Family caregivers are actually being asked to be the caregiver for longer periods of time, since our senior loved ones live are living longer than before. Being attentive for a longer period of time can add strain to family caregivers in a variety of ways including physical, emotional and financial.

Our aging centenarians may be a model of healthy aging for us to emulate.

What lessons can we learn from our oldest old seniors so we will be healthy enough to take care of their aging needs?

Here are some tips we might all need to adopt.

  • Exercise regularly. We all need to stay physically active and keep moving each day.
  • Eat well. Include fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains and lean protein.
  • Longevity-associated genes. We have little say about our genetic makeup, but those with certain genes may have a better chance of becoming centenarians. According to researchers, 15% of Americans are predisposed to reach 100.
  • No smoking! For those who are smoking, the best time to stop is now.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Very few centenarians are obese.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Reduce stress. There is likely no way to eliminate your daily stressors, but learning to reduce it and manage what you do have will help you stay physically healthy.
  • Maintain a positive attitude! Be happy, laugh often and socialize with people who bring you joy!

The ultimate goal is not necessarily to live to be 100. What we really wish to achieve is a lifestyle that will allow us as family caregivers to have an optimal quality of life and to be in a position to care of our senior loved ones as long as possible.

The better health we have, the longer caregiving is possible and the better we are able to make the lives of our senior loved ones.

2 thoughts on “Caring for Centenarians Requires Self Care by Family Caregivers, Too”

  1. My mom is 102. Her reasons for longevity are: faith, family, friends, food, fitness and fun. We also discovered through 23 and Me that she has Scandinavian Laplander heritage and there is a lot of longevity on that side of her family. Caregiving has been very difficult – this longevity is not for wimps and not for wimpy caregivers! Please keep up the good work on this study of centenarians – a silver tsunami of increasing numbers that is important to understand.

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