Death rates from all causes in Black older adults 65-74 and 75-84 are higher among Black older adults than among any of the other racial and ethnic groups; however, for those 85 and over, the rates are higher among Whites and second highest among Blacks. However, in reporting these data, the authors caution that care should be taken in the comparisons because
of questions regarding accuracy of reporting (Kramerow et al., 1999).

The leading causes of death among African Americans age 65 and over are:

  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Pneumonia/Influenza

The top three causes of death are the same for older Americans from White, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic backgrounds. Diabetes is a more common cause of death among Black older adults than in other racial and ethnic groups with the exception of American Indians, where it is the third most common cause (Sahyoun, Lentzner, Hoyert, & Robinson, 2001).

Discussion of mortality among minorities frequently focuses on the concept of “excess mortality,” defined as the difference between the number of deaths actually observed in the minority population and the number of deaths that would have occurred in that group if both minority and non-minority populations had the same age- and sex-specific death rates. Coronary heart disease and stroke account for 24% of the excess mortality among Black males and 41% among Black females (Richardson, 1996).

Most causes of death have been declining among Black older adults, but there are some exceptions. Lung cancer and deaths from other lung diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema have continued to increase among older Black men and women.

Since 1980, there has also been a dramatic increase in mortality from hypertension (presumably due to stroke) among older Black men while it decreased among older White men. Hypertension mortality rates have also increased among older Black women (Sahyoun et al., 2001).