The association between adverse events in later life and mortality in older individuals

Dinuli Nilaweera, Caroline Gurvich, Rosanne Freak-Poli, Robyn L. Woods, Alice Owen, John McNeil, Mark Nelson, Nigel Stocks, Joanne Ryan (Leading Author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: Stress can have adverse impacts on health, particularly when it is chronic or resulting from major adverse events. Our study investigated whether relatively common adverse events in older individuals were associated with an increased risk of death, as well as cause-specific death and potential gender differences. Methods: Participants were 12896 community-dwelling Australians aged ≥70 years at enrolment into the ASPREE (ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly) study and without known life-limiting disease. A questionnaire administered in the year after enrolment, collected information on ten adverse events experienced in the past year. Mortality status was verified by multiple sources including health records and the National Death Index across a maximum of 10 years. Underlying causes of death were determined using clinical information by two adjudicators. Cox-proportional hazards regression models were used to estimate mortality risk. Results: Two of the ten adverse events were associated with an increased risk of mortality in fully adjusted models. A 69% increased risk of mortality was observed in participants who reported their spouse/partner had recently died (95% CI: 1.19–2.39, P < 0.01). Cancer-related but not cardiovascular deaths also increased. Participants with a seriously ill spouse/partner also had a 23% increased risk of mortality (HR: 1.23, 95% CI: 1.02–1.48, P = 0.03). There was a tendency for these associations to be stronger among men than women. Limitations: Perceived stress and cortisol were not measured, thus limiting our understanding of the psychological and physiological impacts of adverse events. Conclusions: Experiencing adverse events in later-life, especially the death of a spouse/partner, may be a risk factor for earlier mortality. These findings may increase public health awareness and better inform initiatives for particular groups, including bereaved men.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100210
Number of pages7
JournalComprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023


  • Bereavement
  • Cancer
  • Caregiver
  • Death
  • Later-life
  • Mortality
  • Older
  • Stress

Cite this