Life At 116: Meeting A Supercentenarian

At 116 years old, Emma Morano is the world’s second oldest person. With many sceptics claiming longevity isn’t desirable, what can we learn from our supercentenarians about life after 100? If you have your health, life can be ‘great’. 

Out of about 2000 verified people over 110 only 13 people in the history of humanity with valid birth certificates have so far reached 116

While it is rare enough to become a centenarian, only 1/700 centenarians become a supercentenarian (over 110 years old). Out of about 2000 verified people over 110 only 13 people in the history of humanity with valid birth certificates have so far reached 116. While there may be a few unverified people living across the globe, it nevertheless remains an incredibly rare age to reach, especially doing so in a reasonable shape. Emma Morano is one such rarity. 

I befriended her a couple of years ago aged 114 partially due to my interest in human aging, congratulated her on her 115th birthday and now returned belated for her 116th. So, I returned for the third time to Verbania with fellow longevity advocate and long term friend Alexander Tietz (University of Aachen) and Italian Alessandro Delucchi working for Gerontology Research Group. We thankfully had the opportunity to ask her questions about her long life.

She is clearly a very aged lady, but she does not have dementia and lives at home with partial assistance. I appreciate the immense historical and extreme social changes she has lived through, but for me, being passionate about medicine and aging, the question is, ‘What has been going on in her body that has made her achieve this very unusual but desirable scenario?’.

Susannah Mushatt Jones, also 116, is currently the oldest verified person in the world

The only way one survives to 116 is by aging slower; supercentenarians have better genomic repair mechanisms for multiple critical factors in the aging process too elaborate to go into detail for this article. The vast majority never develop coronary heart disease or cancers and often remain fully independent well beyond 100.

 

Looking through private photo albums, Mrs Morano did not look anywhere close to her age during her 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s...one can anecdotally observe that from middle age and upwards the "anti-aging" effect seemed to kick in.

In the absence of age-related disease life demonstrably goes on and on and on, "normally"

However what I mainly took from the visit was the psychological perspective of someone in a position few have ever been in. Many people believe 80-90 is long enough, but Mrs Morano has lived several decades beyond that. She is mentally aware and can recall her childhood well beyond a century ago; it all seems coherent. So in the absence of age-related disease life demonstrably goes on and on and on, "normally". If these conditions occur in her, why shouldn't they in others with technological development?.

As for my question on how it feels like to be 116 she just replied "great". She did not hold any answers to questions on the meaning of life, despite having been around much longer than just about any other human being else ever. She seemed alive in the present, enjoying her biscuits and discussing the weather.

With increasing fame, relatives have had to protect and shield her from too many journalists and visitors which makes me thankful I was again granted this opportunity. Before leaving we were invited again for her 117th , "if alive" she added.  

Contributor Victor Björk