When Italian researchers analyzed the health and mortality of Italian seniors, they came to a startling conclusion: As far as longevity and life expectancy goes, quite a few of the people in their study had stopped aging.
They had reached what the researchers call a “mortality plateau.”
While other seniors kept experiencing an increased risk of dying with each passing year, the risk for these non-aging folks had leveled off. Their chances of dying from one year to the next stayed the same even as they got older and older.
As a result, the researchers believe that although the oldest person on record lived to be 122 (she was French), we have not yet glimpsed the maximum age that humans can reach. The real upper limit may be beyond what we have imagined.
And any one of us could potentially live well past our 120s.
To reach their conclusions, the Italian researchers combed through data on almost 4,000 Italians who had reached the age of 105 or older between the years 2009 and 2015.
The mortality plateau they identified means that after the age of 105, the risk of dying during each ensuing year stays the same, or may even go down, no matter how old you get.
Compare this to what happens at other ages: If you are 60 years old, your chances of dying during the next twelve months are three times those of someone who is 30 years old.
Then, as you age through your sixties and reach your seventies, your chance of surviving each year is cut in half every eight years. After you turn 100, your chance of dying during each year is about 40%. Meaning that in a group of ten people older than 100, four would be expected to pass away in the following year (on average).
But something remarkable happens after age 105. The acceleration of your mortality risk stops cold. The chance that a 105-year-old will reach 106 is the same as the chance of a 115-year-old reaching 116.
There’s additional confirmation of the mortality plateau. Studies of various types of animals have revealed the same phenomenon. When they reach a certain age, the mortality risk evens out – plateaus – and does not keep climbing as certain animals continue to get older. This has been discovered in fruit flies and other organisms.1
The change in aging and the risk of dying has led some researchers to believe that, as we advance deep into our senior years, we actually go through two phases of life. It isn’t a uniform aging continuum. We don’t merely “age,” but, if we pass successfully through “aging,” we enter what the investigators call “late life physiology.”2 It’s as though, at that point, we’ve gone beyond aging. The process is finished.
Late life physiology, which the Italian scientists think happens in humans after age 105, means that aging, as far as our longevity is concerned, comes to a halt.
Researchers still don’t really understand what happens in the bodies of the very old to cause this effect. But it is thought that this study reveals “that if there is a maximum limit to human lifespan, we are not close to it yet,” according to researcher Kenneth Wachter of Berkeley, who took part in the study.3
At the same time, a hornet’s nest of controversy has arisen among scientists about what could possibly freeze the chances of dying as we reach very old age.
One theory is that as people – or animals – get older, the frailest ones die soonest, leaving a group of hardy individuals who seem unaffected by very old age. But there’s still a lot to learn about what happens when we pass the age of 105.
In any case, I feel that we are all very lucky to be living at a time when we are learning more and more about how to live a healthy lifestyle that may help us become what are called “supercentenarians.” And if you can make it to 105, who knows? You may eventually make it to an age far beyond any you’ve dreamed of.