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World\'s Oldest Person
By Michael Vitez
Sarah Knauss is 118 years old.
She is the world\'s oldest person and lives in an Allentown nursing home.
Her daughter, Kitty Sullivan, turned 95 Tuesday. She just gave away her
Oldsmobile and moved into a retirement community across the street from her
mother. The daughter says she\'s having a hard time adjusting to living around so
many old people.
"I feel like an inmate," she said.
Sarah\'s grandson, Robert Butz, 73, lives near Reading.
He has collected Social Security for a decade.
His mother has collected Social Security for 30 years, his grandmother for 53 years.
"It goes on and on like a brook," said Kitty Sullivan. "They say one day it will be common."
More than 1,500 of the world\'s leading aging experts are gathering in Philadelphia this weekend for
the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.
Virtually every issue on the conference agenda -- Social Security, longevity, caregiving, long-term
care, quality of life, women and aging -- is brought sharply into focus when looking at the lives of
Sarah Knauss and her family.
Tom Perls, a Harvard University geriatrician and expert on people who live to 100, will visit Sarah
Knauss on Sunday.
Sarah lives at the Phoebe Home in Allentown, where she is treated as a national treasure. She can
still talk, though her voice is soft and frail and seems as if it takes all of her 118 years to reach your
ears. She is gracious, and constantly thanks the nursing staff for putting on her sweater or bathing
her or pulling up her covers. Usually she says, "ooooooooohhhh," which the staff says is Sarah
shorthand for "Oooooohhhhh thank you."
"I\'ve worked here for 14 years and she\'s the sweetest person I\'ve ever known," said Carol Smith, a
nursing assistant. "I think she should live to 200."
So many things about Sarah Knauss are surprising.
The oldest woman in the world can still blush.
When Emmanual Njamfon, a nursing assistant, walked into the cafeteria Tuesday and said loudly
into her ear, "You are beautiful, Sarah" (she had just had her hair done), she turned her head away
like a school girl, smiling broadly, utterly pleased. The oldest person in the world can still shop.
After lunch, a staffer wheeled Sarah down to a holiday craft fair near the lobby. The staffer showed
Sarah two needlepoint poinsettia pins, and Sarah asked, "How much are they?" ($1. She bought
The oldest person eats primarily sweets. At lunch Tuesday, Sarah rejected a nursing assistant\'s
effort to spoon her mashed potatoes and picked up her own spoon and went directly for the dish of
vanilla ice cream.
She emptied it -- albeit extremely slowly.
Then wiped her chin, like a lady.
Then moved onto the yogurt and the shoofly pie with more ice cream.
She never touched the chicken or potatoes or cooked carrots.
"She loves chocolate turtles," Kitty said. "I put three on the little table in front of her now and within
half an hour they\'re gone. Anybody else would be dead. Her doctor says leave her alone."
Sarah is about 5 feet tall, 90 pounds. She gets her shoulder-length hair washed and set each week.
(Curls on the top, french wave in the back.) Her hair has all but stopped growing. The ladies in the
salon just trim the dried-out tips every six months.
The world\'s oldest woman still sits tall and graceful in her wheelchair. Her family believes she has no
aches and pains. The nursing home staff says she must have them, but she never complains. Sarah
takes only one medicine a day, a heart drug. She is anemic, and last August went to a hospital for a
blood transfusion. Her family has said that no medical procedures should be taken to extend her
life. "We don\'t believe in that," says her daughter.
Sarah Knauss is the oldest of six living generations.
She is first. Kitty, second; Robert Butz, third.
Next comes Kathy Jacoby. She\'s Bob Butz\'s daughter and the fourth
Jacoby, 49, is a great-granddaughter and a grandmother.
Her daughter is 27, and her grandson, 3.
Experts in longevity say that soon in America, five-generation families will be the norm. Six
generations will not be uncommon.
Jacoby visits her great-grandmother Sarah every month.
But Sarah doesn\'t recognize Jacoby anymore, even though she lived with her from age 98 to 104 --
babysitting Jacoby\'s son and daughter, her great-great-grandchildren.
Jacoby can\'t relax visiting her great-grandmother because she\'s thinking she could be visiting her
grandmother or her own mother and father or her
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Demography, Human geography, Sarah Knauss, Knauss, Longevity, Sarah, Torah
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