Competing risk of death: an important consideration in studies of older adults

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010 Apr;58(4):783-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.02767.x. Epub 2010 Mar 22.


Clinical studies often face the difficult problem of how to account for participants who die without experiencing the study outcome of interest. In a geriatric population with considerable comorbidities, the competing risk of death is especially high. Traditional approaches to describe risk of disease include Kaplan-Meier survival analysis and Cox proportional hazards regression, but these methods can overestimate risk of disease by failing to account for the competing risk of death. This report discusses traditional survival analysis and competing risk analysis as used to estimate risk of disease in geriatric studies. Furthermore, it illustrates a competing risk approach to estimate risk of second hip fracture in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study and compares the results with traditional survival analysis. In this example, survival analysis overestimated the 5-year risk of second hip fracture by 37% and the 10-year risk by 75% compared with competing risk estimates. In studies of older individuals in which a substantial number of participants die during a long follow-up, the cumulative incidence competing risk estimate and competing risk regression should be used to determine incidence and effect estimates. Use of a competing risk approach is critical to accurately determining disease risk for elderly individuals and therefore best inform clinical decision-making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Bias
  • Biomedical Research / organization & administration*
  • Cause of Death
  • Comorbidity
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods*
  • Geriatrics
  • Hip Fractures / epidemiology
  • Hip Fractures / etiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate*
  • Life Expectancy
  • Longitudinal Studies*
  • Osteoporosis / complications
  • Proportional Hazards Models*
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Assessment / methods*