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Chartbook on Women and Disability

Section 6: Women, disability and aging

6.3. How do age and gender influence the rate of multiple conditions?

Over forty percent of people with a chronic health condition experience other chronic conditions as well. Comorbidity (the technical term for having more than one chronic condition at the same time) puts people at greater risk for disability. As people age, they are much more likely to experience multiple chronic conditions.

Chronic conditions that are most strongly associated with disability among older adults include heart disease, arthritis (especially of the knees), hip fracture, diabetes, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, visual impairment and cognitive impairment (Guralnik, et al., 1997). When more than one condition is present, the risk of disability is much greater.

Comorbidity (the incidence of multiple conditions) increases with age.

Horizontal bar chart. Go to Data Table for Figure 27 for the data values shown in this chart.

Figure 27: Percentage of those with chronic conditions who have more than one condition, by age group

Data Table for Figure 27

Source: Hoffman & Rice (1996).

Surveys: Estimates based on the 1987 National Medical Expenditures Survey

People with more than one chronic health condition go to the doctor more often, and are more likely to be hospitalized than those with one chronic condition. Due mainly to their greater longevity, older women have more comorbidities than older men.

Prevention of adverse outcomes of diseases is particularly important among people who have multiple conditions. These strategies include behavioral changes such as exercise programs, as well as the use of assistive technology. Equipment assistance, such as special aids and devices for accomplishing daily tasks, have been shown to be particularly effective in reducing functional impairment among elderly people with one or more chronic conditions (Verbrugge, et al., 1997).

Older women are more likely to experience multiple chronic conditions.

Vertical bar chart. Go to Data Table for Figure 28 for the data values shown in this chart.

Figure 28: Percentage of people with more than one chronic condition, by gender

Data Table for Figure 28

Sources: Hoffman & Rice (1996); Guralnik (1989).

Surveys: Estimates based on the 1987 National Medical Expenditures Survey

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