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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1999 Nov;54(11):M554-9.

Causes of death and clinical diagnostic errors in extreme aged hospitalized people: a retrospective clinical-necropsy survey.

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Istituto di Clinica Medica, University of Trieste, Italy.



There are little data on causes of death in extreme aged. We compared, using autopsy findings, main cause of death, overall disease status, and accuracy rate of clinical diagnoses in extreme aged and persons dying at younger ages.


We reviewed the complete clinical and autopsy records of 114 consecutive inpatients (97 women, 17 men, age range 97-106, mean 99, median 98) who died in Trieste, Italy, and represented 99% of all extreme-aged person deaths in the hospital and 70% in the area. The control group included 151 patients (66 women, 85 men, age range 65-74, mean 70, median 70) who died during the same period in that hospital.


Vascular and respiratory diseases together caused 84% of deaths in extreme aged. The main causes of death were pneumonia (n = 40, 35%), pulmonary embolism (n = 16, 14%), stroke (n = 12, 11%), and myocardial infarction (n = 8, 7%). Cancer was responsible for 6% (7/114) of deaths in extreme aged and 42% (64/151) in the control group. In 5% of extreme aged, autopsy findings did not explain death. The premortem diagnostic accuracy rate for clinical diagnoses was good in 44% of extreme aged, sufficient in 18%, poor in 28%, and not evaluable in 10%, and was significantly different from controls. Pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, and myocardial infarction were markedly underestimated by clinicians in both groups.


Extreme aged die mainly of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and, in most cases, of acute events. Senescence is a rare cause of death. Death from cancer is substantially lower than in persons dying at younger ages. In contrast to no autopsy studies, most extreme aged in our study were found to have specific diseases that explained their deaths.

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