The concept and potential implications of a premature death of an older person are under-recognised and misunderstood by society. Clinical, forensic and public health practitioners need to redress this gap to prepare society better for a future where an increasing proportion of the population are vulnerable older people. Reliable and valid information is paramount for understanding how many older people have premature, preventable deaths, with implications for aged care services, health-care expenditure, quality and safety, and human rights. Our aim is to: (a) provide discourse on the limitations and challenges to the use of the concepts ‘premature’ and ‘preventable’ deaths, examining the situation for nursing home residents; and (b) propose the use of a novel classification system of ‘treated’, ‘un-treated’ and ‘untreatable’ causes of death that is more sophisticated and reflects the demographic reality of our ageing population. Accepting that preventable, premature deaths may happen to older people and adopting a new classification is a novel approach that has considerable benefits for health and life care of older persons. Improved assessment of the quality of care provided, including identification of health or life care practices that are unsafe or deleterious, can be identified and addressed.