JEANNE CALMENT, a Frenchwoman who lived to age 122, died in 1997. She survived longer than anyone whose age has been confirmed. Calment is among the people who taught researchers that mortality rates for the oldest old are much lower than would be predicted by extrapolating from the death rates of younger individuals (left graph on opposite page).
JEANNE CALMENT, Record Holder at her 116th Birthday
James W. Vaupel of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, Anatoli Yashin, now at Duke University, A. Roger Thatcher, formerly of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys in London, and Vaino Kannisto, formerly of the United Nations, examined death statistics for eight million people. They found that after age 97 a person’s chance of dying at a given age veers from the expected trend (light green). Instead of increasing exponentially, the rate slows to become more linear (dark green). (The ratio would exceed 1 if an entire age group were to die in less than a year.) These findings support the author’s suggestion that the oldest members of our species tend to be healthier than expected.
Similar mortality trends were observed among medflies (right graph). James R. Carey of the University of California at Davis compared expected death rates (light orange) with observed rates (dark orange). He found that the chance of dying at any given age peaked at around the age of 50 days. After that, risk declined, so by the age of 100 days, the oldest insects had only a 5 percent chance of dying on a given day.