If a loved one has passed away without any obvious medical cause, you may be left wondering, can you die of old age?
While it might seem possible to die of old age, it’s not a medically valid cause of death.
This is because there is always something that causes the body to stop functioning in a way that supports life.
This article will answer the question can you die of old age and explore what happens when someone seemingly dies of old age.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:
- If you’re wondering if you can die of old age alone, the simple answer is ‘no’.
- Old age is a risk factor for many conditions that can be the cause of death, but it isn’t itself a cause.
- When someone is dying in old age their body is slowly shutting down and this could be due to a number of different factors.
- But ultimately, when the heart stops beating, this cannot be put down to dying of old age alone,
Can you die of old age?
Old age is not, in itself, a causative factor for someone’s death.
However, there are many age-related concerns that see the body begin to shut down and the heart eventually stop.
It can be said that someone died of old age meaning they died of underlying conditions or ailments that occur in old age which can go undetected.
These issues may not even be apparent to the person, their family or doctors, but can cause underlying health issues that can lead to death.
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What does it mean to die of old age?
Even if someone is very elderly and frail, it is actually not possible to die of old age alone.
To say someone has died of old age may refer to the absence of any particular medical condition.
But rather a mixture of conditions or symptoms that older people are naturally more susceptible to, such as an infection.
When an elderly person dies in these circumstances, it is sometimes also referred to as death from natural causes.
Is age a risk factor?
Getting older means that our bodies change and eventually deteriorate over the course of our lifetimes.
This means that age is a risk factor, as your body simply isn’t able to function as it once did.
For example, a weakened immune system puts older people at greater risk of dying from infections, big or small.
Plus, age is a risk factor for other conditions such as dementia and Parkinson’s which can exacerbate the mortality risk.
What are the stages of dying of old age?
As we have discovered, when it comes to determining a cause of death old age isn’t a recognised medical term.
Whether it is obvious or not, there is always a condition or ailment that ultimately causes the heart to stop beating.
This could be an event such as a cardiac arrest or infection which ultimately starves the brain and body of oxygen and causes death.
Even if it is not 100% clear at the time of death, post-mortem examinations are usually not given for the elderly.
What happens when you die of old age?
An elderly person who is dying, not of old age but due to underlying condition, will present various changes in responsiveness and functioning.
These changes mark the progression through stages of dying in old age which range through early, middle and late stages.
Generally the week before death is known as active dying, and can be marked by a number of events or symptoms.
This can vary between individuals, but the more clinical signs that are present, the greater the likelihood is of dying soon.
When someone is close to death their heart begins to slow down and the pulse may become weak or erratic.
There is also a drop in blood pressure which can reduce circulation, especially to the extremities.
This drop in body temperature will mean that the skin is cold and may have a grey or bluish appearance.
Breathing can become erratic in the stage before an elderly person dies.
It may seem like they have lost control of their breathing with gasps, shallow breaths or even pausing between breaths.
When someone is reaching the end of their life, and might appear to die of old age, they may not be conscious during this time.
Due to very low energy from lack of food as well as any pain medications, the person dying may be very sleepy and fatigued.
If they are conscious, they may experience hallucinations or confusion, which can be disconcerting.
For more information about this and more head to our article can dehydration cause confusion?
At the end of someone’s life their muscles weaken to the extent that they may be unable to do anything for themselves.
They may need assistance with drinking from a cup or moving in bed, such as sitting up or turning over.
This movement from one position to another is important to prevent bed sores so support must be given.
What care can you receive at the end of life?
Elderly people may become unresponsive or slow down towards the end of their life.
Even if they aren’t known to have any specific condition, something internally causes their body to shut down.
They may already be getting end of life care and support with hydration or pain management, amongst other things.
For more information about what is end of life care and what is palliative care at home head to our advice pages.
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How can you prepare for dying of old age?
If your elderly loved one is starting to deteriorate, it may be worth checking that all their affairs are in order.
This could include treatment options for their end of life care, or financial concerns.
However, it’s best to have these documents and decisions planned out well before the active dying stage begins.
You may want to consider some of the following options for elderly people.
What is lasting power of attorney (LPA)?
If you’re thinking what is lasting power of attorney? – we’ve got the basics covered – and you can find out more on our advice pages.
- An LPA is an important legal document that allows a trusted individual to make decisions on behalf of the person who is dying.
- This must be set up while they have mental capacity as it can be used for important decisions, such as around health and finances.
- Having one set up can avoid confusion between family members about what their loved one would want if they are unable to express it.
Some elderly people may wish to give guidance on treatment options though making an advance decision.
This advance decision about medical treatment is used in the event that you lack mental capacity to make a decision at the time it’s needed.
It also refers to the refusal of life sustaining treatments such as ventilation, antibiotics or CPR.
Like the LPA, an advance decision about treatment must be made when you still have the mental capacity to make a legal agreement.
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