Centenarians really are different than most of us. A study in the UK has revealed that the oldest of the old typically die not of the chronic illnesses that often fell the “younger” elderly, but of infections or frailty, LiveScience reports. Out of almost 36,000 centenarians who died in England between 2001 and 2010, only 8.6% succumbed to heart disease and 4.4% to cancer, Time reports. Meanwhile, among people aged 80 to 85, 19% died of heart disease and 24% of cancer. The most common causes of death for people who make it to 100 or more? Old age and pneumonia. The study also found that 88% of centenarians died in a residential care home or hospital.
That so many centenarians rely on hospital care at the end of life could spell trouble as elderly populations grow. Globally, centenarians are expected to number 3.2 million by 2050, which “indicates an urgent need to ensure adequate long-term care," a study author says. So what can doctors do? Emphasize home care when centenarians are ill, and anticipate the sudden infections that lead to a decline in their health, she says. More beds in residential care homes will also help centenarians avoid expensive hospital stays, she notes. (The good news: Apparently, it’s pretty great to be 100.)