Journal Article

The remarkable improvements in survival at older ages

Vaupel, J. W.

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: Series B - Biological Sciences, 352:1363, 1799-1804 (1997)


"This chapter summarizes the key research findings that pertain to the trajectory of mortality at advanced ages. The basic finding is that mortality decelerates at older ages. For some species, such as humans, death rates keep on going up with age up to advanced ages but the rate of increase slows down. For other species, such as medflies, death rates reach a plateau and then fall dramatically. Why mortality decelerates at older ages, in all the species for which large, careful studies have been conducted, is a puzzle. The chapter concludes with an explanation of why this is a puzzle and what might be the key to an answer. The research reported here is based on collaborative efforts by scientists from different backgrounds." (EXCERPT) The belief that old-age mortality is intractable remains deeply held by many people. Remarkable progress, however, has been made since 1950, and especially since 1970, in substantially improving survival at older ages, even the most advanced ages. The pace of mortality improvement at older ages continues to be particularly rapid in Japan, even though mortality levels in Japan are lower than elsewhere. The progress in improving survival has accelerated the growth of the population of older people and has advanced the frontier of human survival substantially beyond the extremes of longevity attained in pre-industrial times. Little, however, is known about why mortality among the oldest-old has been so plastic since 1950. The little that is known has largely been learned within the past few years. New findings, especially concerning genetic factors that influence longevity, are emerging at accelerating rate. (THE ROYAL SOCIETY)