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Are you really 134 years old, sir?
Much anecdotal evidence about extremely old people is the product of exaggeration, mystification or fraud. Gerontologists who study these extremely old people and their lifestyle must therefore separate the wheat from the chaff, according to researchers at Boston University. They list 8 things that should set off alarm bells among critical gerontologists.
#1 Spiritual exaggeration
Still, religious and spiritual traditions claim that their foremen and women grow extremely old. A recent example is the Tibetan meditation master Nyala Rinpoche, who died in 1978. He would have lived to be 152 years old. Then he no longer had a body of organic tissues, but of light. At least, that's what his followers say.
#2 Elder worship
Temo was a local celebrity. She said in interviews that she was convinced that elsewhere in the world people lived even older than her, and that she liked spinach, sweets, meat and cola. When she was born there was no proper registration yet. It is unknown how old she really was. CNN has made an item about her once.
#3 The source of eternal youth
Walker was the founder of the raw food movement. He designed a centrifuge with which people could make their own healthy juices from fruit and vegetables [and earned good money with it]. He wrote books about how you can grow old with a vegetarian and juiced lifestyle and stay vital at the same time.
Walker made himself ten years older than himself for marketing reasons. When he died he would have been 119, but he was actually 'only' 99.
Media plays an important role in myths surrounding Shangri-Las. For example, in 1976 the book Los Viejos: Secrets of Long Life from the Sacred Valley was published by the journalist Grace Halsell. Halsell wrote the book after living in Ecuador's Vilcabamba Valley for a while.
For example, during that time she had camped out in a dirt-floor mountain cabin with a man who claimed to be 132 years old. He would stay sane by reciting poems in his head as he hiked through the mountains. Hasell's book made the ancient Vilcabambbanen world famous.
Harvard gerontologist Alexander Leaf grew suspicious of the stories when he spoke to a man in 1974 who said he was 134 years old. Leaf had also met the man in 1971, and then he said he was still 122 years old. When scientists like Leaf started to check the fabulous ages of the Vilcabam orbits, it turned out that they were all wrong.
A hallmark of a culture of longevity exaggeration is an excess of very old men, the researchers said. Women's genomes are more robust than men's and so women can live longer than men. If suddenly all extremely old men turn up somewhere - such as in the Vilcabamba Valley - but not many more extremely old women, then a skeptical attitude is in order, the researchers say.
Their icon was Shirali Muslimov, who would eventually live to be 163 or 168 years old. Muslimov owed that age to the clear mountain water, his diet of chicken and yogurt and the healthy hard work on the kolkhoz.
Western reporters were never allowed to talk to Muslimov. We owe it to Danone that Muslimov nevertheless became known in the west. In a clever advertising campaign, he made a connection between Muslimov's fabulous age and yoghurt. Yoghurt from Danone, that is.
#6 Obligatory military service
According to historians, Salling never fought. He had cheated his age for ten years during the Civil War so he wouldn't have to enlist.
#7 Bureaucratic errors
In France, Eva Jourdan fell victim to such a mistake. She would have officially become 112 years old, but in reality died 'already' at the age of 102. A civil servant once accidentally wrote her birth year - 1890 - as 1880.
#8 Benefit fraud
Another form of fraud that can lead to myths about fabulously old men and women is keeping dead relatives at home, allowing next of kin to continue collecting pensions. In 2010, the Japanese government investigated two hundred cases in which this was the case. There was even talk of someone who was 110 years old on paper, but had actually died at the age of 76.
Similar stories come from Greece. Of the five hundred centenarians who are still alive in Greece according to government records, three hundred have actually died, according to independent research. Their relatives keep that to themselves for a while.