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Growing Number Of Centenarians Means Growing Health Care Needs, Study Reveals

We're fascinated by centenarians, the people who live to be triple-digits, and how they do it -- but what's more fascinating is exactly how they're aging. While many diseases are associated with old age, like cancer, and heart disease, a surprising new study says it's not the diseases of old age that ultimately get centenarians down.

A study published in PLOS Medicine journal says centenarians are most likely to die from pneumonia or frailty, rather than things like stroke, heart disease, and dementia. Pneumonia and 'old' age made up nearly half of all deaths among the age group, but cancer (4 percent), dementia (6 percent), and circulatory diseases (9 percent) were far less likely to take lives in the age set.

Researchers from King's College London looked at nearly 10 years of data on aging statistics from England, where the number of centenarians has grown rapidly, doubling every decade since the mid 1950s. Worldwide, the number of centenarians is expected to reach a whopping 3.2 million by 2050, according to U.N. projections.

While in a way the findings highlight how centenarians are less likely to succumb to age-related diseases, it also highlights the need for more preventive care. Over 60 percent of centenarians died in a residential care facility, followed by over a quarter who were hospitalized at the time of death. Only 10 percent died in the comfort of their own homes.

"Centenarians have outlived death from chronic illness, but they are a group living with increasing frailty and vulnerability to pneumonia and other poor health outcomes," study co-author Catherine Evans said in a release. "We need to boost high quality care home capacity and responsive primary and community health services to enable people remain in a comfortable, familiar environment in their last months of life."

Many surveys have found that a common wish for seniors is to live their final days surrounded by loved ones and not being a burden on anyone, but the Centers for Disease Control estimates that only a quarter of all Americans actually do just that.