Vital signs in older patients: age-related changes

J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2011 Jun;12(5):337-43. doi: 10.1016/j.jamda.2010.04.009. Epub 2010 Oct 2.


Vital signs are objective measures of physiological function that are used to monitor acute and chronic disease and thus serve as a basic communication tool about patient status. The purpose of this analysis was to review age-related changes of traditional vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate, and temperature) with a focus on age-related molecular changes, organ system changes, systemic changes, and altered compensation to stressors. The review found that numerous physiological and pathological changes may occur with age and alter vital signs. These changes tend to reduce the ability of organ systems to adapt to physiological stressors, particularly in frail older patients. Because of the diversity of age-related physiological changes and comorbidities in an individual, single-point measurements of vital signs have less sensitivity in detecting disease processes. However, serial vital sign assessments may have increased sensitivity, especially when viewed in the context of individualized reference ranges. Vital sign change with age may be subtle because of reduced physiological ranges. However, change from an individual reference range may indicate important warning signs and thus may require additional evaluation to understand potential underlying pathological processes. As a result, individualized reference ranges may provide improved sensitivity in frail, older patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena
  • Vital Signs*