The number of Americans making it past their 100th birthday has increased by 44 percent, as revealed by a new report by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report said that in previous years, the death rate among American centenarians – people who live up to an age of 100 years old and beyond – has decreased, dipping by 20 percent for men and 14 percent for women within 2008 to 2014.

Dr. Jiaquan Xu, the lead author of the CDC report, said this means the risks of dying for centenarians has lowered over a period of seven years.

Of the age group, about 80 percent of the annual deaths were women. Xu said this was a reflection of how many women and men live long.

In 2014, 40 of the women were 111 years old or older when they died, compared to five men. People who lived beyond 110 years old were considered as supercentenarians, experts said.

The latest report puts the number of centenarians today at about 72,000. This age group accounted for about 1 percent of the 2.6 million deaths in the country in 2014.

Leading Cause Of Death

For centenarians, the principal cause of death was also changing, experts said.

About 16 years ago, the top five diseases that led to death for this age group were the following:

1. Heart disease

2. Stroke

3. Influenza and pneumonia

4. Cancer

5. Alzheimer's disease

However, by 2014, the death rate for Alzheimer's had more than doubled and increased from 3.8 percent to 8.5 percent. The neurodegenerative disease is now the second primary cause of death for centenarians, the CDC said.

Geriatrics Professor Holly Prigerson of the Weill Cornell Medical College, who was not involved in the report, said there was one possible reason for the surge in deaths from Alzheimer's.

It may be that developing the debilitating condition is possible even after the person had beaten the odds of dying from other diseases such as cancer, she said, and that those whose bodies are strong enough to live beyond 100 years ultimately end up with diseases afflicting the mind.

"In other words, it appears that their minds give out before their bodies do," she said.

Meanwhile, the No. 1 cause of death in centenarians was still heart disease, the report said, while the third cause was stroke, next to Alzheimer's.

Although cancer is the second main cause of death overall for Americans, it is the fourth cause of death for centenarians, the CDC said. Experts explained cancer death rates decline as people turn 80 years old and above.

"It's a case of if you live to 100, you've escaped cancer and some other causes of death that are more common in younger people," said David Howard, a health economist who studies cancer trends.

The CDC report is featured in the website.

Photo : Sam Beebe | Flickr

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