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Aged to perfection in ND: Living to 100 not as rare as it used to be in state

GRAND FORKS -- When Lutheran Sunset Home in Grafton hosted a birthday party last month for its residents who were 100 years old or older, nine people showed up to join the celebration.

"That's 915 years of wisdom," is how Susie Demers, activities director, described the gathering at the time.

As the event might suggest, living to be 100 is not as rare as it used to be, especially in North Dakota and the Midwest.

North Dakota ranks first in the nation in the number of centenarians per 10,000 people, at 3.29, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report, Centenarians: 2010, released this month. South Dakota is second, at 2.95.

In 1990, North Dakota didn't even crack the Top 10.

The 2010 Census shows that four of the Top 5 states, in centenarians per 10,000 people, were in the Midwest. No. 3 was Iowa with 2.78 percent. No. 4 was Nebraska with 2.74 percent.

No. 5 was Connecticut with 2.6 percent.

While the Northeast dominates the next five, Minnesota comes in as 11th, at 2.28 percent. The Census Bureau report includes the District of Columbia (sixth, at 2.59 percent) and Puerto Rico (7th, at 2.58 percent).


The Census Bureau doesn't offer any theories on why people are living longer.

Those who do make a living pondering the question generally agree on a few contributing factors, including genetics, diet, exercise, medical advances and quality of life.

But beyond that, no one appears to have carved a clear path to living well to a ripe old age.

"I laugh a lot," Felipe Sierra, the 56-year-old director of the National Institute on Aging Division of Aging Biology told U.S. News and World Report earlier this year in a special report on aging.

Whatever the secret, it seems to be spreading.

It does help if you are a woman. Only 20.7 percent of the 53,365 centenarians nationwide are men.

The 2010 Census counted 221 North Dakota residents 100 years or older, of which 200 were women and 21 men. Thirty years ago, there were about 100 centenarians in the state.

In Walsh County, there were a total of 14 centenarians in 2010, 11 women and three men.

That was nearly as many as Grand Forks County, which counted 16 centenarians, 13 women and three men. But Walsh County, with 11,119 residents, had only about one-sixth the population of Grand Forks, with 66,861.

At Grafton's Lutheran Sunset Home, all of the centenarians are women. But their numbers slipped a bit recently, with the deaths of two of the nine.

Johanna Green, who is 107, is the oldest among her peers there. At the party last month, she offered a theory of longevity that has persisted perhaps for centuries.

"Moderation in all things," she said.