Is older age associated with COVID-19 mortality in the absence of other risk factors? General population cohort study of 470,034 participants

PLoS One. 2020 Nov 5;15(11):e0241824. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0241824. eCollection 2020.


Introduction: Older people have been reported to be at higher risk of COVID-19 mortality. This study explored the factors mediating this association and whether older age was associated with increased mortality risk in the absence of other risk factors.

Methods: In UK Biobank, a population cohort study, baseline data were linked to COVID-19 deaths. Poisson regression was used to study the association between current age and COVID-19 mortality.

Results: Among eligible participants, 438 (0.09%) died of COVID-19. Current age was associated exponentially with COVID-19 mortality. Overall, participants aged ≥75 years were at 13-fold (95% CI 9.13-17.85) mortality risk compared with those <65 years. Low forced expiratory volume in 1 second, high systolic blood pressure, low handgrip strength, and multiple long-term conditions were significant mediators, and collectively explained 39.3% of their excess risk. The associations between these risk factors and COVID-19 mortality were stronger among older participants. Participants aged ≥75 without additional risk factors were at 4-fold risk (95% CI 1.57-9.96, P = 0.004) compared with all participants aged <65 years.

Conclusions: Higher COVID-19 mortality among older adults was partially explained by other risk factors. 'Healthy' older adults were at much lower risk. Nonetheless, older age was an independent risk factor for COVID-19 mortality.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Cohort Studies
  • Coronavirus Infections / mortality*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / mortality*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United Kingdom