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Top 10 Causes of Death Among Adults Over Age 65


Updated May 16, 2014

The leading causes of death among adults over the age of 65 are also the among most common causes of death among the population as a whole. Many of these conditions are also highly preventable and treatable. It is important to understand these diseases, know when and where to get treatment and know how you can live with them to help prolong life and health. Many of these disease and conditions are preventible or reversible with prevention and lifestyle changes.

1. Heart Disease

Senior man having a stroke/heart attack
Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
Heart disease is the number one cause of death among adults over the age of 60. Heart disease includes conditions such as heart failure, heart attack and heart arrhythmia that can cause the heart to beat ineffectively and impair circulation. Heart disease is associated with or caused by, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, improper diet and lack of exercise. It can also have a genic component.

2. Cancer

Cancer is the second leading cause of death among seniors. It includes all cancers including, breast cancer, colon cancer, and skin cancer. Also included are the malignant blood and bone marrow diseases that cause leukemia. Many cancers occur at a higher rate among older adults, thought the cause for that is not clear. Cancers can also be more difficult to treat due to other health conditions that may also be present.

3. Cerebrovascular Disease

More commonly know as stroke, cerebrovascular disease can be caused by either a clot or blockage that cuts off blood flow to a part of the brain or by hemorrhage. In both cases there is damage or death of brain tissue that can cause paralysis, speech disorders, swallowing problems and immobility. People with diabetes and high blood pressure are at higher risk of stroke.


Chronic obstructive lung disease decreases the lungs ability to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. As the disease progresses the patient has to work harder and harder to breath, often feeling as if they are suffocating. These diseases are often linked to a lifetime of smoking, but can be due to environmental factors.

5. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is the fifth highest killer of older adults, especially during the winter months of flu season. At high risk are seniors with chronic diseases such as diabetes heart disease and respiratory conditions. The flu and pneumonia shots are recommended for all adults over the age of 55 to help prevent this killer.

6. Diabetes

Type two diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes is a chronic disease that lowers the immune system and can increase risk of stroke, heart disease and other circulatory problems. Wounds take longer to heal and respiratory infections like pneumonia often are more severe.

7. Accidents

Seniors are more at risk of accident due to balance disorders, failing eyesight and slower reflexes. Simple falls can result in fractures that cause immobility, disability and may hasten death. Accidents cannot be planned, but precautions can be made to prevent them.

8. Septicemia

Septicemia refers to the presence of pathogenic bacteria in the blood. This can cause overwhelming infection and death. Anthrax is just one of many organisms that can cause such a massive infection.

9. Nephritis

Nephritis is an inflammation of the kidney, and can be chronic or acute. It can result from bacterial infection, or toxic drugs such as mercury: arsenic or alcohol. It can progress to renal failure with decreased urine output and a built up of toxins in the blood. Chronic renal failure may lead to a need for dialysis.

10. Alzheimers

This progressive and always deadly disease is characterized by progressive memory loss, personality changes and eventually a complete loss of function and ability. The causative factor is unknown, and there is no cure, though there are some medications that can slow its progression slightly.
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