The lived experience of being a hundred years and over
The twentieth century has seen a decline in mortality after the age of eighty and an increase in survival rates of the oldest of the old. Centenarians (people over a hundred years of age) are the fastest growing group of this population in developed countries; however qualitative research on the oldest of the old is limited. The primary aim of this study was to gain an understanding of the essence of lived experiences and meanings of extended longevity as perceived by centenarians. It also aimed to explore the role of lifestyle characteristics, family, social, health and cultural factors in regards to their prolonged existence. The research was conducted with ten centenarians aged between 100 and 106 years living in the Lower North Island namely Wairarapa, Kapiti and Wellington of Aotearoa New Zealand. Biographical Narrative Interpretive Method of inquiry was used to guide the data collection through face-to-face interviews using unstructured open ended questions. Colazzi’s phenomenological framework was employed for data analysis. There were common patterns throughout the life stories related by the centenarians and resilience and acceptance of life was notable. The centenarians spoke nonchalantly about their experience of turning a hundred, describing their birthday as; “Just another day.” Positive personalities and resilient nature were prominent features of the participants who all expressed a sense of acceptance and satisfaction with life and contentment with living in the present. All centenarians had a privileged upbringing and were nurtured during their childhood by their parents, grandparents and siblings and these interrelationships were ongoing at an intergenerational level. They had all kept themselves active as much as they could throughout their lifetime. The results suggest that nurturing has an important role in the survival of the oldest of old.