Recognizing Death by Old Age Causes and Symptoms

Published March 12, 2020
Person dyingin hospice care

Dying of old age means that someone has passed away due to the deterioration of their body or subsequent diseases associate with their declining ability to function. Understanding the signs and symptoms associated with passing away due to old age can help you better prepare if a loved one is in the dying process.

Differing Views on What it Means to Die of Old Age

There are some split views on what it means to pass away due to old age. The Journal of the American Medical Association notes that dying due to age should be considered an appropriate categorization when it comes to understanding why someone has passed away because there are cases where underlying issues are not present. Others note that dying due to age means that you've passed away because of a disease or diseases that tend to crop up as one gets older.

Symptoms Associated with Dying of Old Age

The Journal of American Medical Association states that passing away due to old age is associated with the body shutting down progressively until the person is no longer able to carry on. They also note that even minor issues or injuries that may occur can be enough to trigger further decline. In this sense, the main symptoms for those who do not show signs of other ailments or illness may include:

Comforting a dying patient
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Change in appetite
  • May show signs of confusion
  • Retreating emotionally and/or physically from others
  • Experiencing a more subdued or depressed mood
  • Increase in frailness

As dying gets even closer, those who will pass away due to old age may experience a shift in their breathing pattern, no appetite and no desire to drink, poor blood circulation, and increased agitation.

Common Illnesses and Injuries That May Be Present

The older someone gets, the more at risk they may be to experiencing certain illnesses. Some common ailments that can lead to dying due to old age include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Osteoporosis which can lead to life-threatening injuries
  • Dementia
  • Cancer
  • Osteoarthritis, which can lead to life-threatening injuries as well as increased discomfort and pain

The Emotional Process of Dying of Old Age

Research on the emotional process of dying suggests that those who were in the final stages of their life felt ready to die, didn't want to be a burden on others, were concerned about how their death would impact their loved ones, and were more concerned with experiencing a pain-free transition than opting to find life-prolonging care. Many also focused on one day at a time and opted to not plan for the future as they weren't sure how long they had left to live. This suggests that there is an awareness of the dying process and at the time, those who were going through it felt ready to pass away versus being scared to do so.

Death Certificate Wording

Death certificates can list pre-existing conditions and ailments that may have impacted the individual's death. Even if an illness or issue did not directly cause the death, it can be listed on the death certificate. If there is no condition, illness, or injury that contributed to the individual's passing, then one can list "undetermined natural causes" on the certificate.

Understanding the Dying Process

It is possible to pass away simply due to old age as the body begins shutting down and eventually ceases to work appropriately. Others also consider dying of old age to be linked to various ailments and diseases that tend to impact older individuals and eventually cause them to pass away. The dying process can bring up complex emotions both for the individual experiencing it, and their loved ones who are witnessing it, so be sure to seek help if you feel overwhelmed at all during this time.

Recognizing Death by Old Age Causes and Symptoms