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More Americans Living Past 100

June 16, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ At age 98, Ella May Stumpe really didn’t want a computer.

Arthritis had prevented her from recording a century of memoirs with her typewriter, and her friends were pushing her to buy a PC so she could keep writing.

``I didn’t want to buy it. I really bought it to get them to not bother me anymore,″ Mrs. Stumpe said. She looked at the computer sitting in her room and saw a ``white elephant,″ she said.

Five years later, Mrs. Stumpe, now 103, has mastered word processing and has written two books, including one titled, ``My Life at 100.″

For Mrs. Stumpe, like for more and more Americans, reaching the century mark doesn’t necessarily mean slowing down.

A Census Bureau report released Wednesday finds the nation’s centenarian population overwhelmingly female and doubling this decade. Women living in the Midwest have the best chance of living to 100, the report suggests.

``More than anything else, the reason I have survived to this age is a moderate way of life,″ said Mrs. Stumpe, who grew up in North Dakota, which had the 11th highest percentage of centenarians among its population in 1990. She now lives in Frederick, Md.

Mrs. Stumpe, who changed her diet to nonacidic foods after suffering an ulcer at age 30, offers advice for those yearning to live long: ``I do not go for the modern teen-age diet of hamburgers and pizza and stuff like that.″

The Census Bureau reported that its analysis of 1990 data found that four out of five U.S. centenarians are women. Iowa had the highest percentage of residents in their 100s, a tiny .0261 percent of the total population, closely followed by South Dakota at .0256 percent. Three other Midwest states _ Nebraska, Kansas and Minnesota also finished in the top 10. The others in the top 10 were Connecticut, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana and the District of Columbia.

The 1990 Census counted 37,306 people aged 100 or over, but bureau analysts believe that inaccurate birth and death records inflated that number and that the figure was actually closer to 28,000, the report said.

``A lot of people don’t know how old they are and if you don’t have a record and you’re old you may want to be one hundred plus. It’s kind of a magical age,″ said Victoria Velkoff, co-author of the report.

Nonetheless, the bureau estimates there are now nearly 70,000 people age 100 or older, almost double the 1990 total.

California, New York and Florida had the most residents past the century mark. But when measured as a percentage of population, these big states trailed those in the Midwest.

Dr. Tom Perls, a principal investigator for the New England Centenarian Study that researches aging, said genetics probably is the primary reason for the regional cluster of centenarians frequently referred to as the ``longevity belt.″ It stretches from Minnesota to Nova Scotia, he said.

``There were genes passed down through the generations that have inhabited these regions that are probably excellent for getting to extreme old age. That’s what we call a founder effect,″ Perls said.

Florida, with the largest senior population, ranked just 23rd in the percentage of centenarians in its population. The Census Bureau suggests that’s because the healthier ``young old″ may be flocking to Florida, while the ``older old″ return to their home states for family care, the report said.

Alaska ranked last for centenarians both as a percentage and for total numbers.

The report also echoes findings that women outnumber men among the very old.

Women age more slowly than men, Perls said, and among women, the onset of cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s may be delayed by 10 years. Elderly women also survive illness and chronic conditions like heart disease more often than men, he added.

Anna Groupe, 104, of Sherburn, Minn., spends her days reading the local papers and her copy of ``Portals of Prayer.″ Born in 1895 when Grover Cleveland was president, Mrs. Groupe doesn’t know why she has lived so long. But she remembers an active youth of horseback riding and farm work with her German immigrant parents.

``I drove a horse and buggy four miles to high school to get a high school education. I was never late because my dad always had the horse hitched,″ Mrs. Groupe said.

Her husband, Arthur, died at age 87 in 1982. She now lives with her 78-year-old daughter, Mildred Johnson, on the same farm where she grew up. ``I take care of her and she takes care of me,″ Mrs. Johnson said.

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