New study highlights effects of education and higher wages in health of older adults

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The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) led the study, which reveals key insights into the understanding of multimorbidity.

Multimorbidity is the coexistence of two or more chronic illnesses in an individual. The study, titled “Comparisons of disease cluster patterns, prevalence and health factors in the USA, Canada, England and Ireland”, aims to identify and improve the means in which these illnesses can be prevented and managed. The four countries studied were selected due to their similar positioning in the UN Human Development Index of 2018, ensuring that comparisons between the nations are suitable and relevant.

The findings, published on October 5th, examined the prevalence of 10 common conditions, including chronic, cardiovascular, and mental health-related issues. It studied such instances in approximately 62,000 people, whose ages range from 52-85 years old, and considers the effect factors such as socio-economic status, health behaviours and demographics in the incidence and combination across the four countries.

Incidence rates of multimorbidity were highest in the U.S. at 60.7%, Ireland ranking lowest at 38.6%, with the lowest rate in 6 out of the 10 diseases looked at. In patterns identified in each country, it was discovered that in each of the countries, where a disparity in socio-economic conditions is prevalent, those who had a higher level of education and a better rate of income were generally healthier. The effect of which is most apparent in the US, where 9 out of the 10 illnesses looked at, including hypertension, stroke and psychiatric illnesses, were seen on a much more ubiquitous basis. This is despite the US spending more on health care per capita than the other three countries, according to the study.

Professor Rose Anne Kelly, Principle Investigator of TILDA and co-author of the study, spoke on its results, stating that “The findings of this study clearly outline the health concerns that affect our ageing population and are particularly relevant for those tasked with strengthening healthcare delivery in Ireland and further afield. Having an informed understanding of disease patterns for a given country can bring about a better understanding of the complex nature of multimorbidity and disease”. Speaking on the impact that these studies can have, she noted how “research shows that preventing the development of chronic diseases may be beneficial in delaying or preventing dementia-related disease or cognitive impairment. We know that Ireland has the second highest rate of obesity in the EU, while dementia rates are estimated to more than double in the next 25 years, to over 150,000 by 2045. This research clearly outlines why targeted health interventions and campaigns are needed to encourage healthier habits and behaviours to help prevent or delay the development of disease, while supporting better health and longevity for those who age.”

The study is currently in open access on BMC Public Health’s website.