Original Articles

Virchows Archiv A

, Volume 423, Issue 5, pp 343-349

First online:

Causes of death in a hospitalized geriatric population: An autopsy study of 3000 patients

  • William Mac GeeAffiliated withDepartment of Pathology and University Institutions of Geriatrics, University of Geneva, Faculty of Medicine

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Macroscopic and histological studies of 3000 consecutive autopsies (43.9% of the registered deaths) were performed by the same pathologist in a geriatric institution over a period of 20 years. Bronchopneumonia (42.9%), malignant neoplasms — mainly of the gastrointestinal tract and its annexae and the lungs (28.1%) — pulmonary thrombo-embolism (21.2%) and acute myocardial infarction (19.6%), were the most prevalent fatal conditions observed. Next, in decreasing order were: urinary tract infection (12.3%), acute cerebrovascular disease (6.5%), internal haemorrhage (5.5%), and congestive cardiac failure (3.3%). Some “rare” causes of death noted included trauma, metabolic disease, acute asphyxia from foreign body obstruction of the upper respiratory tract and degenerative neurological diseases. Some potentially treatable disorders which led to death were unsuspected clinically: for example, acute pyelonephritis (87%), pulmonary thrombo-embolism (74%), acute myocardial infarction (74%) and active pulmonary tuberculosis (61%). With advancing age there is an increased frequency of multiple pathological processes in a given subject and interactions play an important role in morbidity and mortality. We observed that two or more co-existing conditions often determine the fatal event. We also emphasize the relevance of post-mortem examination to prevention of disease and to therapeutic medicine in a hospitalized geriatric setting.

Key words

Death Geriatrics Multiple pathology Autopsy Clinico-anatomical discrepancies