Thursday, March 7, 2013

If 115 is Old, What's Middle Aged?

Jiroemon Kimura,  116th birthday coming up (photo by AP)
Here's a sobering, or thrilling,  thought:
More and more people are living to be 115.  And a whole new generational class has emerged of  "super-centenarians" -- people who have made it to 110 and beyond. (There are 57 such people-- 53 women and 4 men -- counted by the Gerontology Research Organization, though some say there are hundreds alive whose ages have yet to be confirmed. See this extraordinary list of the earth's oldest).
All of which raises some big questions of our time: When does middle age start? What's the definition of "old?" And, what will you do with your life between now and then?  
I spent the morning looking at the data (and some disturbing photos of what really, really old age looks like) after hearing the news that  Misao Okawa, of Japan, turned 115 on March 5 and is now the world's oldest female, according to the Guinness World Records.
But she's not the oldest person. That title has been held, since Dec. 17, 2012 by a countryman, Jiroemon Kimura  who was born  April 19, 1897. (Okawa was born 11 months later, on March 5, 1898.) Kimura's advice is to wake early, eat small portions, and read the paper, which he does with a magnifying glass.

Let's hope Kimura -- a rarity as a man holding the oldest person title -- hangs on awhile longer. Since 2010, which is as far back as I looked, no one has worn the world's oldest crown for more than 8 months.
Here's the list:
Kimura succeeded Dina Manfredini, of Iowa, after she died on December 17, 2012 at the age of 115 and 257 days. Manfredini only held the title for 2 weeks.
Before her, Besse Cooper, who died Dec. 4, 2012, was the world's oldest person. Cooper, of Georgia,  lived four months past her 116th birthday, a feat she attributed to minding her own business and avoiding junk food. She was actually declared the oldest woman in 2010, but wrongly so. 
Maria Gomes Valentim, a Brazilian, was discovered to be six weeks older and took Cooper's title away in 2011, when Valentim's age was verified. Born July 9, 1896, Valentin was world's oldest, officially that is, for just a month. She was 114 years, 347 days at her death, which restored Cooper to the record books.
Before Valentin, a French woman, Eugenie Blanchard, who died in 2010, was the oldest person on earth. She was 104 days shy of her 115th birthday and lived on the island of Saint Barthelemy.

According to the official list of the Gerontology Research Organization, only 12 people are still alive on the planet who were born before the year 1900.  Another sobering thought.

So, when does middle age start? What's the definition of "old?" And, what will you do with your life between now and then?  

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