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A supercentenarian is someone who has lived beyond the age of 110. Living to become a supercentenarian is extremely rare; only around 1,000 supercentenarians have been documented and verified, although undoubtedly more people than that have lived beyond 110. Once someone reaches 110, he or she has around a two percent chance of achieving the next big landmark, 115.
This term first cropped up in the 1970s, when researchers wanted a superlative form of “centenarian,” the word used to describe someone who lives past the age of 100. The term “supercentenarian” was coined and seems to have stuck, although some people prefer it in the hyphenated form of “super-centenarian.” Thus far, no terms beyond “supercentenarian” have been coined, probably because so few people live beyond the age of 115; the oldest documented human being was Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122.
The United States and Japan both have high documented numbers of supercentenarians, which may have less to do with longevity than it has to do with meticulous record keeping in both of these nations. Confirming that someone is a supercentenarian can be a challenge, as it requires a valid birth certificate and records which support the person's claim to supercentenarian status. With a growing global trend towards more intensive documentation of birth and death records, undoubtedly more supercentenarians will start to emerge.
Very old people are often subjects of study, because researchers are curious about why they have lived so long. As a general rule, people begin to experience health problems as their bodies slowly break down in old age, and researchers would like to know why some people live to be supercentenarians, while others age and die long before they reach their 90s, let alone their 100s. In some regions, extensive genetic testing has been performed on supercentenarians to see if there is a genetic component to their longevity.
Birthdays of supercentenarians are often celebrated in local newspapers, and in some nations, the head of state will send a birthday card to people who reach landmark birthdays. Many supercentenarians have been interviewed by the press, and they cite a wide variety of reasons for their advanced age, from sheer luck to extremely good diets. Many supercentenarians have said that they do not smoke or drink, suggesting that these practices may contribute to health problems, and many have also lived very active, eventful lives; perhaps all the excitement keeps them young.
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