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Health VIEW

Centenarian Population on the Rise

January 20, 1987|ALLAN PARACHINI | Times Staff Writer

Living to age 100--once perceived as a dim prospect--may be commonplace by the turn of the century and the number of centenarians in American society could rise almost eighteenfold by the year 2025 to 441,000 people.

There are an estimated 25,000 centenarians today. At the current rate of increase, the number might be 100,000 by the turn of the century and 1 million by 2050. That prospect is raised in the new issue of the highly regarded Metropolitan Life Statistical Bulletin, whose editor, Dr. Charles Arnold, speculates that people 100 or older may be so numerous that celebrating their birthdays may become a growth industry.

Calculations for the period 1979 to 1981 indicated that 1,150 of every 100,000 Americans can expect to live to 100 or beyond, with residents of Hawaii, Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa having the best odds of turning a century and residents of Alaska, the District of Columbia, Louisiana and Nevada the least. Women are way ahead of men--1,927 per 100,000 women in the population as opposed to 423 men.

"The centenarian population is likely to increase dramatically in the coming decades," said Gregory Spencer, a U.S. Bureau of the Census demographer who made the projections. "The implications of this growth may be dramatic for pension plans, social welfare programs, life insurance or annuity plans and the like."

THE FLU AND YOU: 1987

Public health officials say there is good flu news so far this season, but if you're under 35 and miserable with a persistent case of it, you may be too sick to care.

The flu strain most active nationally this season is called Taiwan A. It's a classic influenza in most respects, producing symptoms that include sniffles, fever, headache, sore throat and muscle ache. But instead of hitting the elderly, Taiwan A has generally left the very old alone and socked it to the young. So far, anyway.

In most senses, noted Dr. Bob Murray of the California Department of Health Services, this is good news because flu, as a rule, doesn't kill or disable otherwise healthy young patients, but does have the capacity to be either serious or fatal in the old.

Flu this year, said Dr. Steve Waterman of the Los Angeles County Health Department, has been visible when it has disabled college basketball teams and caused huge, though fleeting, absenteeism in schools. But, he added, it is really no more prevalent or hazardous than usual. Effective vaccines are available--recommended for older patients and those under 35 with chronic disease, particularly of the respiratory system. A prescription drug called amantadine (brand name: Symmetrel) is an effective treatment.

BREAST CANCER IN MEN

Breast cancer among men is occurring at a rate of about 900 new cases a year and is causing 300 fatalities yearly, according to American Cancer Society statistics. (Breast cancer in women accounts for an estimated 123,000 cases a year and 39,900 deaths.) The disease in men accounts for about 1% of all cancers among males each year. That so many of its victims die is attributed to the fact that it isn't expected and usually isn't diagnosed until it has progressed too far. Canadian researchers writing in the journal Cancer say men in families with a high incidence of female breast cancer and other cancers may be at high risk, too.

DOCTOR'S LEXICON

Heart attacks aren't all the same, but the most common variety is one lay people may have heard doctors call by its technical shorthand term, MI . The initials stand for myocardial infarction, or an episode in which a small area of tissue in the myocardium, or the muscle walls of the heart, becomes an infarct, deteriorating in a process very much like rotting away. The muscle fails at the site of the infarct and the heart seizure occurs.

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