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Wisdom Of Ages

Put another candle on the birthday cake.

Boomers, shmoomers. So much attention is paid to the baby boom generation (yes, we plead guilty) that it's all too easy to overlook what is actually the fastest-growing population segment in the country: centenarians.

OK, so Americans 100 years old and older are still relatively few in number. Nonetheless, by 2005, it's projected that this unique population will venture past the 100,000 mark. Even more staggering, that number is projected to grow to 800,000-plus by 2050.

So who exactly are these most senior of citizens? "Centenarians are a diverse group of individuals," says Lynn Peters Adler, founder of the National Centenarian Awareness Project, a Phoenix-based nonprofit organization devoted to promoting centenarians. "They come from all walks of life."

In other words, says Adler, don't make the mistake of assuming all centenarians are one and the same. Just as significantly, don't automatically conclude that vitality is extinguished by age. "There's a growing body of active, interesting centenarians," Adler maintains. "It's a great harbinger for the future."

For the present, however, keep in mind that today's centenarians want respect--and inclusion. "People who are very, very old don't want to be relegated to the sidelines," says Adler, who is also author of Centenarians: The Bonus Years (Health Press). "They want to be involved in the activities of life." And yes, appropriately enough, the omnipresent boomers will only swell the ranks of centenarians in years to come.

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This article was originally published in the November 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Wisdom Of Ages.

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