Background and purpose: the very old are expected to become a growing part of the stroke population in the industrialised part of the world. The aims of this study were to evaluate clinical characteristics of patients aged 85 years or more at stroke onset and to investigate very old age as an independent predictor of short- and long-term outcome.

Methods: in the community-based Copenhagen Stroke Study we recorded admission clinical characteristics in 1,197 consecutive stroke patients. Patients were stratified according to age groups on admission. Follow-up was performed at a mean of 7 years after stroke onset. By way of multiple logistic regression and survival analyses very old age was independently related to short- and long-term mortality and nursing home placement independent of other clinical characteristics.

Results: 16% of patients were 85 years or older at the time of stroke onset. More of the very old were women (75% versus 50%, P<0.0001), living alone (84% versus 54%, P<0.0001), had atrial fibrillation (37% versus 15%, P<0.0001), had pre-existing disability (29% versus 22%, P = 0.04), and had more severe strokes (Scandinavian Stroke Scale score 31 versus 37 points, P = 0.004). Fewer very old had hypertension (25% versus 34%, P = 0.02) and diabetes (14% versus 22%, P = 0.01). In adjusted multiple regression models, very old age predicted short-term mortality (OR 2.5; 95% CI 1.5–4.2), and discharge to nursing home or in-hospital mortality (OR 2.7; 95% CI 1.7–4.4). Five years after stroke very old age predicted mortality or nursing home placement (OR 3.9; 95% CI 2.1–7.3), and long-term mortality (HR 2.0; 95% CI 1.6–2.5). However, other factors such as onset stroke severity, pre-existing disability and atrial fibrillation were also significant independent predictors of prognosis after stroke.

Conclusions: in this study very old age per se was a strong predictor of outcome and mortality after stroke. Apart from very old age, factors such as prestroke medical and functional status, and onset stroke severity should be taken into consideration when planning treatment and rehabilitation after stroke.