|BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Not too long
ago, Lonny Fried's achievement would have dropped jaws. TV and
newspaper reporters would have showed up at her door. She would have
been fussed over and given a big party.
But turning 100 isn't such a big deal
America's population of centenarians
– already the largest in the world – has roughly doubled in the past
20 years to around 72,000 and is projected to at least double again
by 2020, perhaps even increase seven-fold, according to the Census
Fried turns 100 on Friday. Her
retirement community, Edgewater Pointe Estates in Boca Raton,
observed her birthday two weeks ahead of time with other residents
born in April.
"In the `80s, we'd make a big deal
about it by calling Willard Scott on TV to make that huge
announcement," Diana Ferguson, who has worked at Edgewater for 25
years, said of the "Today" show weatherman known for his on-air
birthday wishes to viewers who hit the century mark. "But today we
have so many residents turning 100-plus that it's not as big a
Fried doesn't mind at all. Simply
making it to 100, she said, is enough. "I don't want any celebration
or nothing," she said.
Born in Germany, she lost her first
husband in the Holocaust and was herself held at the Westerbork
concentration camp before coming to the U.S. She takes no
medication, moves around steadily with a walker and said she has
been fulfilled by a life in which she found a second love, raised a
family and worked as a nurse.
"I still don't believe it," she
The Census Bureau estimates there
were 71,991 centenarians as of Dec. 1, up from 37,306 two decades
earlier. While predicting longevity and population growth is
difficult, the census' low-end estimate for 2050 is 265,000
centenarians; its highest projection puts the number at 4.2
"They have been the fastest-growing
segment of our population in terms of age," said Thomas Perls,
director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University.
The rising number of centenarians is
not just a byproduct of the nation's growing population – they make
up a bigger chunk of it. In 1990, about 15 in every 100,000
Americans had reached 100; in 2010, it was more than 23 per 100,000,
according to census figures.
Perls said the rise in 100-year-olds
is attributed largely to better medical care and the dramatic drop
in childhood-mortality rates since the early 1900s. Centenarians
also have good genes on their side, he said, and have made
common-sense health decisions, such as not smoking and keeping their
"It's very clearly a combination of
genes and environment," Perls said.
The Social Security Administration
says just under 1 percent of people born in 1910 survived to their
100th birthday. Some have speculated that as many as half of girls
born today could live to 100.
Those who work with people 100 and
above say the oldest Americans are living much healthier lives. A
good number still live independently and remain active, their minds
still sharp and their bodies basically sound. They have generally
managed to confine serious sickness and disability to the final
years of their lives.
When Lynn Peters Adler, a
former lawyer who founded and runs the National Centenarian
Awareness Project, began to recognize the oldest members of the
community, she didn't even know the word "centenarian." Now, some
weeks she talks to a dozen people who are 100 and older. And in her
25 years of contact with centenarians, she has culled some
similarities among them:
_ A positive but realistic
_ A love of life and sense
_ And a remarkable ability
to accept the losses that come with age but not be stopped by them.
"Centenarians are not
quitters," she said.
Peters Adler cautioned
against growing too accustomed to centenarians, saying they still
deserve to be recognized. After all, census estimates indicate they
represent only about one out of every 4,300 Americans.
"It's a great distinction,"
Peters Adler said. "I think we're sort of shortchanging everything
if we become blase about it or say it's not enough to be 100
anymore, you have to be 110."
For their part, some centenarians
aren't as wowed by the magic number.
Leo Lautmann, who lives at the Hebrew
Home at Riverdale in New York City, reached 100 in December. He
paused for a moment when asked how long he'd like to live.
"One hundred and twenty," he said in
Yiddish, before reconsidering. "Maybe 110 would be enough."