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Number of Tragic Deaths among the Elderly is Decreasing

Mortality among people aged over 60 due to injuries, poisonings, road accidents, murders, falls, and other external causes remains high in Russia. At the same time, the elderly commit less suicides and less frequently die in road accidents, concluded Inna Danilova, postgraduate student at the HSE Institute of Demography, in her article ‘Old-age mortality from external causes of death in Russia’

Over 20% of all deaths caused by injuries, poisonings, accidents, falls, burns, and other similar reasons in Russia happen to people over 60. This death rate, of course, can be explained not only by external factors, but by the state of their health. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable due to poorer hearing, sight, and coordination, lower reaction rate and worse memory, as well as fragile bones. Their body has less, if any, ability to repair itself after an injury.

For example, a fall may cause a ‘postponed’ death: a broken hip forces a person to stay in bed, and such limitation of movement can be the last straw for the heart, blood vessels and lungs. Death can happen months after the fall. Statistical services in various countries qualify such death cases differently. In some countries, the cause of the lethal outcome is considered the fall, while in the others – the complications it caused. Russia falls into the second group of countries, which therefore affects the statistics of deaths caused by tragedies, said Inna Danilova in her article, which was published in Demographic Review, #2, 2014.

At the same time, old-age mortality in Russia is decreasing due to objective reasons as well. For example, there are less deaths from transport accidents, murders, and suicide, Inna Danilova noted.

But old-age mortality from external causes still remains high in Russia, and there is the clear potential to reduce  it, the author emphasized. The study used data from Rosstat and the World Health Organization (WHO Mortality Database). The analysis concerned two age groups: 60-74 years and 75 years and older. The studied period covered almost half a century, from 1965 to 2012.

Mortality among people over 75 in Russia is lower than in other countries

In many countries the rate of deaths from external causes swiftly rises among people over 70 (Fig.1; axis X shows age; most of the curves ascend sharply). In Russia, however, it is high among the middle aged as well, especially men. This is due to risky behaviour and injuries, particularly from working in manufacturing industries.

But as men get older, the death rate from external causes in Russia decreases slightly, while the death rate among women rises, but not as strongly as in other countries, Inna Danilova said. Similar profiles of age mortality from external causes can be seen in other post-Soviet countries, such as Romania or Bulgaria.

Figure 1. Age rates of death from external causes in Russia and other countries, per 100,000 of population


Source hereinafter: Inna Danilova’s article

Key killers of the elderly

The article author divides mortality from external causes into several groups.

Between the ages of 60 and 74 the main causes of death are ‘injuries with undetected purposes’ (in this case the experts find difficulty in detecting whether these injuries were accidental or not), transport accidents, suicides, accidental poisonings with alcohol, and exposure to extremely low temperatures. These reasons make up about two thirds of all external causes of death among both men and women.

In the age group over 75 the biggest five causes of tragic death are injuries with undetected purposes, suicide, accidental falls, road accidents, and accidents related to fire or smoke. About 72% of all deaths from external factors both among men and women fall into one of these five categories.

The author compared the structure of male and female mortality from external causes in Russia and other countries in three age groups: 20-59, 60-74, and over 75 (Fig. 2; indicators from 15 countries are united in an average model). Both in the able-bodied age and the age of 60-74 the comparatively high level of Russian mortality from external causes is a consequence of high mortality from almost all external factors. ‘The average mortality rate from all external causes in Russia, compared with the average rate calculated for other developed countries, is 4.4 times higher among men and 4.8 times higher among women’, Inna Danilova noticed.

According to the scholar, this correlation is different in the 60-74 age group: 3.0 for men and 2.1 for women.

Figure 2. Mortality rate from external causes and the share of different causes in it, by age groups in Russia and 15 countries, per 100,000 of the population


The situation is radically different among the over 75s. The death rate from external causes among Russian men doesn’t seem to be extremely high anymore and exceeds the average indicator from 15 other countries by only 1.07 times (see Fig. 1). Among women, the researcher added, the death rate from external causes in this age group is considerably lower.

The intercountry comparison of external causes of death among people over 75 shows that the low level of mortality as a result of tragedies in Russia both among men and women is due to only two groups of reasons. They are accidental falls and ‘other external causes’.

In other countries, in the age group over 75, the average death rate from these causes is 59% from mortality from all external causes among men, and 71% among women. In Russia, this correlation is 16% and 20% accordingly. At the same time, mortality from most other external causes is still high in Russia.

There are fewer suicides

According to most global studies on the problem of suicide, the risk of suicide is higher in old age. In many developed countries, mortality from suicide increases with age and reaches a maximum with the oldest ages, and Russia is no exception in this regard, the article says.

But, compared with the 1990s, when the number of suicides among the elderly reached a peak (Fig. 3), the 2000s look much better. During this period, the mortality of pensioners from suicide has been consistently decreasing. The data as of 2011 both for women and men older age are comparable with 1965, the most problem-free year in the studied period. And death rates from suicide in the age of 60-74 in 2012 were even lower than in 1965, Inna Danilova emphasized.

Figure 3. Death rate among older people from suicide in Russia, 1965-2012, per 100,000 of the population


Another positive trend is the decreasing number of old people’s mortality from road accidents, especially among people aged over 75, starting from 2003 (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Death rate among older people from road accidents in Russia, 1965-2012, per 100,000 of the population


Mortality from fire stays high

Death from careless handling of fire or smoke is, unfortunately, also an frequent problem among older people. Age-related neurologic diseases also contribute to this, and in addition, it is harder for old people to get out from a room which is on fire.

Mortality among people over 60 rose sharply after 1990, and reached a peak in the early 2000s. ‘Some positive trends towards reducing mortality from this group of causes can be observed in recent years’, Inna Danilova wrote, ‘But this decrease can’t yet be called significant’. Compared to other countries, the death rate from fire and smoke among the elderly in Russia is extremely high.

So, in Russia as a whole there is much room for reducing the number of lethal cases due to external causes among people over 60, the scholar concluded. A number of measures are necessary to decrease mortality in this demographic group which remains especially vulnerable to many external factors.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, December 10, 2014