Saturday, August 25, 2007

The good and bad news about disability and ageing

This chart shows that over 80% of Americans were not chronically disabled in 2004-2005, measured by their state of health and the daily tasks they are able to do. That is an improvement over three-quarters a decade earlier.

A similar trend has been documented in some Europe countries. Denmark, Finland, Italy, and the Netherlands show clear evidence of a decline in disability among the elderly. This is the good news (unless you are a company providing care services to the chronically disabled) .

This decrease in old-age disability has come as chronic diseases (heart disease and diabetes)have increased. A seemingly contradictory trend. But disability is determined by other factors in addition to health. As life expectancy in the older population has increased, more elderly people are living with chronic illnesses. However, these illnesses are not as disabling as they were in the past.

The bad news is that rising obesity in the US (and just about everywhere else) could halt or reverse the decline in old-age disability. Already there is evidence that Americans in their early 50s are less healthy than people of the same age a decade earlier.

Based on current trends for people ages 50 to 69, disability rates could increase during the next decade from 8% in 2005 to 9% in 2015, reversing some or all of the recent gains.

Another big BUT is that these figures are averages and as we all know averages tell us virtually nothing. There is a big difference in the disability rates between the wealthy and the poor.

For all you smug Brits that think the UK doesn’t have these problems remember that in Iraq, life expectancy is 67. In the Calton, area of Glasgow, it is 54. Dick Stroud

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