World’s oldest person lived through remarkable change

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What is believed to be the last person still alive from the 19th century has died.

Susannah Mushatt Jones was born in Alabama in 1899, and her long life ended in a nursing home in New York on Thursday.
She was the world’s oldest person, according to experts who keep authenticated records.

There are many claims, particularly from countries such as China and Cuba, of people who are older than that, perhaps 120 or 130 years of age, but these are almost certainly false.

The richest countries in the world, such as Germany and America and Japan, have accurate records and excellent healthcare and huge populations, and yet even they have barely any records of people who lived beyond the age of 120. The longest confirmed life in human history is Jeanne Calment, who died in France at the extraordinary age of 122.

Advances in medicine have been such that more and more elderly people are now reaching their 100th birthday than ever before. But while many more people are becoming centenarians, the top end of the age spectrum is not in fact increasing – it is merely that many more people are getting close to it.

No-one in Northern Ireland has reached a 110th birthday and become a so-called ‘super centenarian’ since Elizabeth Yensen in Holywood in 2005 (she died later that year).

Mrs Yensen (1895 to 2005) and Ms Jones (1899 to 2016) lived through stark change, from before the first flight to well into the technological age. Ms Jones was born in a farm town near Montgomery, Alabama, in 1899, one of 11 siblings in a black family, barely 30 years after the abolition of slavery.

The fascination with old age is deep rooted. The early News Letters from the 1730s often have reports, some dubious, of people living well into their hundreds. People loved to read about remarkable longevity then, and still do now.

It is to be hoped that medicine will continue to enable many more people to live fulfilling lives right up towards the upper end of the maximum age spectrum.