A caustic debate over whether there’s a limit to how long people can live erupted again. It has been almost 20 years since the death of the world’s oldest person, 122-year-old French woman Jeanne Calment. Her remarkable life span has been liable to various examinations, both during her lifetime and after her passing, to affirm this record.
In 2018, Russian scientists claimed that her daughter Yvonne might have assumed Calment’s identity in 1934.
In 1998, a Demographer Jean-Marie Robine, a researcher at INSERM and the Ecole pratique des Hautes études, published a study providing historical evidence of Ms. Calment’s longevity. He claimed that he had met with Ms. Calment several times before her death to confirm her status as humanity’s oldest person.
Now, scientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG) in Switzerland, as well as from the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) and the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE) in France, provide historical and epidemiological evidence of the longevity of humanity’s oldest person ever.
For this study, scientists designed a probabilistic model based on reliable demographic data. They recreated the complete cohort of all the people born in France in 1875 – Ms. Calment’s time of birth – to decide their age at death. They, at that point, repeated the activity for the year 1903, which is the last extinct cohort.
To build a reliable model and limit random fluctuations, extreme values – age figures for which there were under 30 deaths– were then excluded. In light of this information, survival probabilities at 100 years, then at 101 years, 102 years, and so forth were then determined.
Scientists noted, “We finally applied these survival probability figures to a virtual population of 100,000 centenarians to determine the maximum extinction age of the cohort. We reach an age between 119 and 123 years. Thus, every 10 million centenarians, a person can reach 123 years of age.”
François Herrmann, Professor at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine, said, “At the time of Ms. Calment’s death, the new humanity’s oldest person was ‘only’ 112 years old, ten years younger. A significant gap that made Ms. Calment an anomaly. Since then, however, one person has reached 119 years of age, and five others 117 years of age. The gap is narrowing! Ms. Calment was simply a little ahead of her time.”
What is the secret of this longevity?
Jean-Marie Robine explained, “It must have been a mixture of good genetic heritage and luck. Many of Ms. Calment’s ancestors lived a particularly long time, as did her brother. Also, the family was well-off and educated, two socio-economic factors that still predispose to good longevity today. Unfortunately, Ms. Calment’s grandson died young, and without descendants in a car accident; therefore, it is impossible to assess this family hypothesis.”