Studies looking at centenarians

Assoc Prof Angelique Chan of Duke-NUS Medical School and CARE.

Centenarian (those over the age of 100) studies are going on or have been done all around the world including in Japan, Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Denmark and US. In Japan, the country is even doing a “supercentenarian study” with those aged 105 to 109, according to Assoc Prof Yasuyuki Gondo of the School of Human Sciences, Osaka University, Japan, at a recent centenarians forum held by Duke-NUS Medical School’s Centre for Ageing Research and Education (CARE).

Calling centenarians the “fastest growing group of people”, another speaker Prof Yasuhiko Saito of the University Research Center, Nihon University, Japan, explained that through studying them, “We are interested in finding out how to live a long and healthy life.” He added: “Increasing longevity is a great achievement but it also changes for [different] societies.”

Centenarian exhibition at the forum.

There is much to learn about this group as there is not much data on them. In Singapore, based on figures by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) and the Pioneer Generation Office (PGO), there are 1,100 centenarians as of 2015. Shared Assoc Prof Angelique Chan of Duke-NUS Medical School and executive director of CARE, who highlighted a centenarian exhibition held during the forum: “The families of centenarians [that] I spoke with claim that centenarians have no major illnesses. The two centenarian women who fell and broke both their hips in their late 90s are able to walk.” And some even are living on their own. She also noted the importance of the issue of social connectivity, which remains key in growing older. However, not all centenarians are like the two women, many are not well.

Increasing number of centenarians in Japan.

She added: “Longevity is a product of advances in medicine and technology, however, the quality of these extra years is in large part, a social issue. To take one example, frequent admitters at emergency departments are typically those individuals whose social circumstances drive re-admission over and above the original medical problems.

“These social issues range from not having a caregiver to social isolation, and unless they are addressed, a growing proportion of older adults, particularly the oldest-old (65 and above) will have fewer quality life years. Understanding these social and medical interventions will ensure that we are well-placed to identify strategies for successful ageing.” Prof Saito noted the consequences of increasing longevity, which can include medical expenditure, pension, long-term care and dementia. Another forum speaker Assoc Prof Bernard Jeune from Danish Aging Research Center, University of Southern Denmark, shared that exceptional longevity does not always result in excessive levels of disability and when they reach over 100, they likely are institutionalised.

Also, more women make up the centenarian population, this being in line with the evidence that women are living longer than men. However, Assoc Prof Jeune, raised the point that specifically in Denmark, that could likely change with the increasingly number of women who are smokers.

A centenarian with her family, and Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources & Ministry of Health, and Senior Minister of State, Prime Minister's Office, Heng Chee How.

In Singapore, CARE has embarked on several longitudinal studies tracking older Singaporeans aged 60 and above across many aspects of their lives from their health and well-being through their engagements in work, learning and the wider society. One of the studies called “Panel on Health and Ageing of Singaporean Elderly” (PHASE) was initiated in 2009 and CARE has already tracked them three times, with a fourth time being planned. There is also another study, which was launched last year, by A*STAR and NUHS called SG90, which looks at the health of those above 90s.

These studies will continue to give us a glimpse of these centenarians who have gone through the war and tough times, and come out resilient and teach those who are only lucky to get to be over 100, how their extra years can be spent in better health.


A resource for more on centenarian research:




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