Aging and evolutionary medicine

Published on October 1, 2007 Reviewed on June 12, 2021   51 min

A selection of talks on Clinical Practice

This talk is going to be about ageing. It's one of those characteristics where understanding how it has evolved is really key to thinking about its mechanisms. This is a case where evolutionary biology really is directly relevant to a medical problem, and there are some extremely pressing reasons for taking an interest in ageing right now. One of them is the fairly obvious one, that mortality rates have shown a dramatic decline in industrialised societies worldwide. This is a trend that started in about the middle of the 19th century and has continued unabated to the present day.
This slide from the work of Jim Vaupel and his colleagues shows some examples of these. These are mortality rates for women between the ages of 80 and 89, between the years 1950 and 1995 in various industrialised societies. You can see that over that time period, there has been a more or less linear decrease in death rates. They've more than halved over that period of time. This is a trend that is continuing now. What the demographers tell us is that there's absolutely no sign that this decrease in mortality rates is slowing down. We cannot yet see what any intrinsic limit to human lifespan is actually going to be. There doesn't at the moment seem to be an approaching wall of death at an age after which human longevity is impossible. The current world record holder is an extremely interesting person.