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It is Her Majesty’s custom to send a personal greeting to her subjects on their 100th birthdays. These days, the Queen of England has a lot more letters to write – that’s because the number of old people in this age bracket has been doubling every decade since the 1950s in the United Kingdom. This decade, the country became the world recordholder of elderly people. One third of babies born in the UK in 2013 are expected to live to 100, according to their Office for National Statistics.

In the United States, the trend is similar. Globally, the 100+ population shall be 18 million by the end of the century. As the number of centenarians increases, scientists are looking to better understand how and why they die. A study was recently published by King’s College in London, one of the most prestigious schools in the world. According to Catherine Evans, the main author, these individuals are more likely to die of “old age” than chronic diseases.

How and why centenarians die. Researcher Catherine Evans from King’s College examined data from the death records of people in the United Kingdom who died between 2001 and 2010. A total of 35,867 people died between the ages of 100 and 115 – the median age of death was 101 – of pneumonia or general fragility of the body. Chronic diseases, like cancer, tend to kill younger old people, between the ages of 80 and 90.

The data revealed that the majority ended their days in care homes (61%) or hospitals (27%), few died at home (10%) and rarely in hospice care (0.2%). Earlier studies show that the elderly prefer to die at home but are probably unable to due to a lack of conditions. Researchers point to the urgent need to ensure adequate long-term care and responsive community-care services to support people living with extreme longevity in these care settings. Click here for full article.