Aging Clinical and Experimental Research

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 72–93 | Cite as

Living longer — but better?

  • Bernard Jeune
Review Article


The highest attained age has increased by about 20 years since the beginning of the 19th century. In the course of the 1990s, more than ten individuals reached 115 years or more, including Jeanne Calment who attained the age of 122 years. In lowmortality countries, the number of centenarians has doubled every decade since 1950. This dramatic increase was mainly due to periodical effects related to the drastic fall in mortality among the elderly. The fact that centenarians are survivors does not mean that they are healthy. A high prevalence of comorbidity is found, and many centenarians have survived major diseases thanks to medical treatment and surgery. It is, however, possible that the comorbidity is less serious than in younger elderly. Certain personality traits may also be important in surviving health-threatening conditions. Furthermore, a number of biological and cognitive functions seem to be well-preserved in several centenarians. The influence of the apo E-gene and other genes involved in fundamental mechanisms illustrates that with advancing age and increasing mortality even small risks may have a substantial effect on survival to 100 years. A small proportion of long-livers may be considered as relatively autonomous, and this proportion will probably increase in the future. We are living longer and seem to postpone the terminal dependent phase to higher ages. Longevity may thus be perceived as part of our postmodern condition with its mix of pleasure and suffering.


Centenarians comorbidity genetics immortality life expectancy longevity mortality 


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© Springer Internal Publishing Switzerland 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Public Health, and Ageing Research CenterUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark

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