The impact of social vulnerability on the survival of the fittest older adults

Age Ageing. 2012 Mar;41(2):161-5. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afr176. Epub 2012 Jan 26.


Background: even older adults who are fit experience adverse health outcomes; understanding their risks for adverse outcomes may offer insight into ambient population health. Here, we evaluated mortality risk in relation to social vulnerability among the fittest older adults in a representative community-dwelling sample of older Canadians.

Methods: in this secondary analysis of the Canadian Study of Health and Aging, participants (n = 5,703) were aged 70+ years at baseline. A frailty index was used to grade relative levels of fitness/frailty, using 31 self-reported health deficits. The analysis was limited to the fittest people (those reporting 0-1 health deficit). Social vulnerability was trichotomised from a social vulnerability scale, which consisted of 40 self-reported social deficits.

Results: five hundred and eighty-four individuals had 0-1 health deficit. Among them, absolute mortality risk rose with increasing social vulnerability. In those with the lowest level of social vulnerability, 5-year mortality was 10.8%, compared with 32.5% for those with the highest social vulnerability (adjusted hazard ratio 2.5, 95% CI: 1.5-4.3, P = 0.001).

Conclusions: a 22% absolute mortality difference in the fittest older adults is of considerable clinical and public health importance. Routine assessment of social vulnerability by clinicians could have value in predicting the risk of adverse health outcomes in older adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging*
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Frail Elderly*
  • Geriatric Assessment* / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Independent Living
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Survival Rate
  • Time Factors
  • Vulnerable Populations* / statistics & numerical data