Catherine J. Evans and colleagues studied how many and where centenarians in England die, their causes of death, and how these measures have changed from 2001 to 2010.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Centenarians are a rapidly growing demographic group worldwide, yet their health and social care needs are seldom considered. This study aims to examine trends in place of death and associations for centenarians in England over 10 years to consider policy implications of extreme longevity.
Methods and Findings
This is a population-based observational study using death registration data linked with area-level indices of multiple deprivations for people aged ≥100 years who died 2001 to 2010 in England, compared with those dying at ages 80-99. We used linear regression to examine the time trends in number of deaths and place of death, and Poisson regression to evaluate factors associated with centenarians’ place of death. The cohort totalled 35,867 people with a median age at death of 101 years (range: 100–115 years). Centenarian deaths increased 56% (95% CI 53.8%–57.4%) in 10 years. Most died in a care home with (26.7%, 95% CI 26.3%–27.2%) or without nursing (34.5%, 95% CI 34.0%–35.0%) or in hospital (27.2%, 95% CI 26.7%–27.6%). The proportion of deaths in nursing homes decreased over 10 years (−0.36% annually, 95% CI −0.63% to −0.09%, p = 0.014), while hospital deaths changed little (0.25% annually, 95% CI −0.06% to 0.57%, p = 0.09). Dying with frailty was common with “old age” stated in 75.6% of death certifications. Centenarians were more likely to die of pneumonia (e.g., 17.7% [95% CI 17.3%–18.1%] versus 6.0% [5.9%–6.0%] for those aged 80–84 years) and old age/frailty (28.1% [27.6%–28.5%] versus 0.9% [0.9%–0.9%] for those aged 80–84 years) and less likely to die of cancer (4.4% [4.2%–4.6%] versus 24.5% [24.6%–25.4%] for those aged 80–84 years) and ischemic heart disease (8.6% [8.3%–8.9%] versus 19.0% [18.9%–19.0%] for those aged 80–84 years) than were younger elderly patients. More care home beds available per 1,000 population were associated with fewer deaths in hospital (PR 0.98, 95% CI 0.98–0.99, p<0.001).
Centenarians are more likely to have causes of death certified as pneumonia and frailty and less likely to have causes of death of cancer or ischemic heart disease, compared with younger elderly patients. To reduce reliance on hospital care at the end of life requires recognition of centenarians’ increased likelihood to “acute” decline, notably from pneumonia, and wider provision of anticipatory care to enable people to remain in their usual residence, and increasing care home bed capacity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
People who live to be more than 100 years old—centenarians—are congratulated and honored in many countries. In the UK, for example, the Queen sends a personal greeting to individuals on their 100th birthday. The number of UK residents who reach this notable milestone is increasing steadily, roughly doubling every 10 years. The latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures indicate that 13,350 centenarians were living in the UK in 2012 (20 centenarians per 100,000 people in the population) compared to only 7,740 in 2002. If current trends continue, by 2066 there may be more than half a million centenarians living in the UK. And similar increases in the numbers of centenarians are being seen in many other countries. The exact number of centenarians living worldwide is uncertain but is thought to be around 317,000 and is projected to rise to about 18 million by the end of this century.
Why Was This Study Done?
Traditional blessings often include the wish that the blessing’s recipient lives to be at least 100 years old. However, extreme longevity is associated with increasing frailty—declining physical function, increasing disability, and increasing vulnerability to a poor clinical outcome following, for example, an infection. Consequently, many centenarians require 24-hour per day care in a nursing home or a residential care home. Moreover, although elderly people, including centenarians, generally prefer to die in a home environment rather than a clinical environment, many centenarians end up dying in a hospital. To ensure that centenarians get their preferred end-of-life care, policy makers and clinicians need to know as much as possible about the health and social needs of this specific and unique group of elderly people. In this population-based observational study, the researchers examine trends in the place of death and factors associated with the place of death among centenarians in England over a 10-year period.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers extracted information about the place and cause of death of centenarians in England between 2001 and 2010 from the ONS death registration database, linked these data with area level information on deprivation and care-home bed capacity, and analyzed the data statistically. Over the 10-year study period, 35,867 centenarians (mainly women, average age 101 years) died in England. The annual number of centenarian deaths increased from 2,823 in 2001 to 4,393 in 2010. Overall, three-quarters of centenarian death certificates stated “old age” as the cause of death. About a quarter of centenarians died in the hospital, a quarter died in a nursing home, and a third died in a care home without nursing; only one in ten centenarians died at home. The proportion of deaths in a nursing home increased slightly over the study period but there was little change in the number of hospital deaths. Compared with younger age groups (80–84 year olds), centenarians were more likely to die from pneumonia and “old age” and less likely to die from cancer and heart disease. Among centenarians, dying in the hospital was more likely to be reported to be associated with pneumonia or heart disease than with dementia; death in the hospital was also associated with having four or more contributing causes of death and with living in a deprived area. Finally, living in an area with a higher care-home bed capacity was associated with a lower risk of dying in the hospital.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that many centenarians have outlived death from the chronic diseases that are the common causes of death among younger groups of elderly people and that dying in the hospital is often associated with pneumonia. Overall, these findings suggest that centenarians are a group of people living with a risk of death from increasing frailty that is exacerbated by acute lung infection. The accuracy of these findings is likely to be affected by the quality of UK death certification data. Although this is generally high, the strength of some of the reported associations may be affected, for example, by the tendency of clinicians to record the cause of death in the very elderly as “old age” to provide some comfort to surviving relatives. Importantly, however, these findings suggest that care-home capacity and the provision of anticipatory care should be increased in England (and possibly in other countries) to ensure that more of the growing number of centenarians can end their long lives outside hospital.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001653.
The US National Institute on Aging provides information about healthy aging, including information on longevity (in English and Spanish)
The National End of Life Care Intelligence Network, England is a government organization that gathers data on care provided to adults approaching the end of life to improve service quality and productivity
The Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance promotes universal access to affordable palliative care through the support of regional and national palliative care organizations
The non-for-profit organization AgeUK provides information about all aspects of aging
Wikipedia has a page on centenarians (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The International Longevity Centre-UK is an independent, non-partisan think tank dedicated to addressing issues of longevity, ageing and population; its “Living Beyond 100” report examines the research base on centenarians and calls for policy to reflect the ongoing UK increase in extreme longevity
This study is part of GUIDE_Care, a project initiated by the Cicely Saunders Institute to investigate patterns in place of death and the factors that affect these patterns