‘Societies that care for elderly have more centenarians’

October 15th, 2008 - 2:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Oct 15 (IANS) Societies that care more for the elderly have more centenarians, a new study has found. France, Japan, Spain, Italy and Canada are the leading nations with the highest concentration of centenarians. The number is declining in Scandinavian countries, according to papers presented at a recent global conference on tracking oldest people around the world, held at Montreal University.

Demographic data also showed that mothering societies - which care more for the elderly - have more centenarians.

“Countries of the South as well as Japan are mothering countries who accept the dependence of the elderly,” said Jean-Marie Robine, director of the Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale in France.

“In Italy, for instance, centenarians either live at home with their grown-up children or in their children’s homes. In Scandinavian countries, centenarians live in retirement homes,” he said.

According to Robine, this could explain why the number of centenarians is declining in Scandinavian countries.

New research presented at the conference also shattered many myths and urban legends about centenarians. One example was how Japan’s Okinawa region has 427 centenarians for every 100,000 inhabitants, compared to just 14 centenarians for every 100,000 inhabitants in Canada.

Another example was that of Sardinia, where - contrarily to the rest of the world - most centenarians are men.

“Research has shown that male mortality rates are the same as the rest of the world in Sardinia. However, female mortality rates are much higher,” Robine said.

“It is this high female mortality rate that is unusual.” Robine added.

Discussing the problems demographers faced in verifying self-reported data, Robert Bourbeau, director of the Department of Demography at Montreal University, said since “people tend to exaggerate in this type of survey, it is compulsory to verify birth and death certificates”.

Robine concurred with this view and expressed scepticism about the high number of centenarians in Japan’s Okinawa region. “Close to 80 percent of this region was destroyed in the second World War and modern-day registers were all recopied. Therefore, there is a high margin of error,” he said.

Canada has 4,635 centenarians, with one male centenarian for every five to seven women. About 22 percent of them live in Quebec province, including Judith Pinard, a nun who celebrated her 110th birthday last July.

She is said to be the 78th oldest person in the world.

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