Pensioners who are burgled are far more likely to die earlier than others of a similar age, a Home Office study suggests.
There is a battle over how to treat burglars
The Home Office research, seen by BBC News, shows burglary has a greater impact on the elderly than previously believed.
Although people over 60 are less at risk of being burgled than other age groups, they are deeply affected by the crime.
The study - which examined the cases of elderly burglary victims in sheltered accommodation - found their health deteriorated faster than expected.
Some became so frail they had to be moved into residential care.
All burglars are charged with is burglary when in some cases it should be manslaughter
Victims of Crime Trust
But the key finding - which took researchers by surprise - was that those whose homes had been broken into were twice as likely to be dead within two years as people of a similar age who had not been burgled.
Norman Brennan, director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said he was not surprised by the latest statistics.
"This confirms what I have believed for over a decade now - that it is amazing how many elderly people who have been in relatively good health until they are burgled die in a relatively short period afterwards.
"All burglars are charged with is burglary when in some cases it should be manslaughter."
He called on the Lord Chief Justice and his colleagues to "get their act together and understand the devastation that burglary causes" for victims, not only through lost possessions and fear.
"As this research shows, it can even cost the life of an individual," he said.
Age Concern said the findings were "deeply worrying".
"The fear of crime for older people is very real, albeit in reality older people are less likely to be victims than other age groups. Statistics such as
these enhance that fear," said a spokesman.
The charity recently commissioned its own research into perception of crime after the 2002 British Crime Survey found the risk of being a victim actually decreases with age - the most at risk being young men in inner cities.
But in the charity's survey of 4,000, almost half of those aged over 75 said they were too afraid to leave their homes after dark because they believed they would be subject to verbal abuse or mugging.
Two thirds said they believed they would inevitably become victims of crime as they got older - while a fifth said this fear had contributed to a sense of loneliness and isolation.
The report calls for security in sheltered housing to be improved.
It also recommends that burglary victims be kept informed of the progress of their case, as that can help alleviate their distress.
There has been controversy over how to tackle the problem of burglary, with Lord Chief Justice Woolf advocating community sentences for first and second-time burglars.
His guidelines were described as a "charter for burglars" as the tabloid newspapers highlighted recent examples of career burglars who had managed to avoid prison sentences.