A quarter of women and one in six men aged 65 and above will be physically disabled in Europe by 2047, according to an analysis of living conditions in Europe.
In the UK, prevalence rates of women and men in that age group with “severe long-term activity limitations” today is just over 20 percent and 16 percent respectively. Although the proportions are not set to change over the next 30 years, absolute numbers will rise significantly as populations age, the authors said.
“[Our findings] might require several measures to accommodate the needs of an increasing number of people with activity limitations such as expanding infrastructure for disabled people in the public as well as private sectors, training of medical specialists and care professionals.”
The researchers, who publish their findings in the online journal BMJ Open, warn the situation is likely to have considerable implications for the provision of supported care and the training of healthcare professionals. They base their findings on SILC (EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions) survey data on 26 high and middle-income European countries, collected annually between 2008 and 2014, and sex-specific life expectancy tables and population projections from 2015 to 2050 provided by the United Nations.
The SILC survey does not cover people in care homes, but it includes a question on long-term health problems that restrict routine activities of daily living. The researchers focused on the responses from those aged at least 55, up to the age of 85 and above.
They combined all the data to calculate remaining life expectancy free of severe limitations on a physical function by sex, age, and country, to predict the proportion of older people whose daily lives would be severely restricted as a result of long-term health issues. They also took account of cultural differences and the generosity of welfare systems, both of which may influence those who identify themselves as physically incapacitated.
The analysis confirms the findings of other studies, say the researchers: more women than men reported severe limitations in the physical capacity as a result of long-term health issues in all the countries studied. Women tend to live longer than men. However, both men’s and women’s health seemed to worsen with increasing age at the same pace.
The proportion of the ‘unhealthy’ population was very similar across the 26 countries, once cultural differences had been accounted for. This is expected to remain fairly constant over time, even though life expectancy is set to increase, the figures suggest, but the researchers said the trends will still require action to be taken.
“It might require several measures to accommodate the needs of an increasing number of people with activity limitations such as expanding infrastructure for disabled people in the public as well as private sectors, training of medical specialists and care professionals,” they said.
Brian P. McDonough, MD, FAAFPPeer
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