Nursing home deaths which fall under the jurisdiction of the coroner: an 11-year retrospective study

Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2007 Dec;28(4):292-8. doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e3180616b75.


Twenty percent of deaths in the United States occur in nursing homes, yet less than 1% come to autopsy. The current study analyzed causes and manners of death in all nursing homes between 1993 and 2003, investigated by the coroner of Allegheny County, PA, which has the second highest elderly population in the United States. Two hundred eight decedents were identified, aged 19 to 91 years, 58% women and 42% men, 88% Caucasian and 22% African-American. Fifty-eight percent were accidental and 38.5% were natural manners of death, with 2 homicides, 2 suicides, and 3 undetermined cases. The manner of death was significantly different between Caucasians and African-Americans, with 92.6% of accidental deaths occurring in Caucasians and 6.6% in African-Americans (P < 0.1). Most common natural deaths were arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, nonarteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, pulmonary thromboembolism, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), seizure disorder, and atraumatic intracranial hemorrhage. Blunt force trauma was the single most commonly identified traumatic accidental death. Accidental deaths were more common in Caucasians than African-Americans. Homicides and suicides were rare events (<2%). Blunt force trauma is a major autopsy finding in accidental nursing home deaths, and a root-cause analysis may be helpful in developing policies and procedures to decrease the incidence of blunt force trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cause of Death*
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Female
  • Health Services for the Aged / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Homes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pennsylvania / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Factors