Morbidity profile and its relationship with disability and psychological distress among elderly people in Northern India

Kamlesh Joshi, Rajesh Kumar, Ajit Avasthi
International Journal of Epidemiology 2003, 32 (6): 978-87

BACKGROUND: Morbidity among elderly people has an important influence on their physical functioning and psychological well-being. Evaluation of the morbidity profile and its determinants, which have implications for elderly people, are not available. The objective of this study is to assess morbidity, co-morbidity, and patterns of treatment seeking, and to determine relationship of morbidity with disability, psychological distress, and socio-demographic variables among the elderly population in northern India.

METHODS: A cross-sectional survey of 200 subjects over 60 years old (100 each from the urban population of Chandigarh City and the rural population of Haryana State of India) was carried out using a cluster sampling technique. The study period was July 1999-April 2000. Various socio-demographic characteristics were recorded at baseline. A clinical diagnosis was made by a physician based on reported illness, clinical examination, and cross-checking of medical records and medications held by the subjects. Psychological distress and disability was assessed using the PGI-Health Questionnaire-N-1 and the Rapid Disability Rating Scale-2, respectively. ANOVA, Kruskal-Wallis H test, correlation coefficient, and multivariate analysis were used to assess the relationship and association of morbidity with other variables.

RESULTS: Of the total sample, 88.9% reported illness based on their perception, and of these 43.5% were seeking treatment and actually taking medicines, and 42.5% were diagnosed as having 4-6 morbidities. The mean number of morbidities among elderly people was 6.1 (SD 2.9). A total of 87.5% had minimal to severe disabilities and 66% of elderly people were distressed physically, psychologically, or both. The most prevalent morbidity was anaemia, followed by dental problems, hypertension, chronic obstructive airway disease (COAD), cataract, and osteoarthritis. Morbidities like asthma, COAD, hypertension, osteoarthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, anaemia, and eye and neurological problems were significantly associated with disability and distress. Higher number of morbidities was associated with greater disability and distress. In univariate analysis, socio-demographic variables like age, locality, caste, education, occupation, and income were important determinants of morbidity. Multivariate analysis was undertaken to find out the independent relationship of socio-demographic variables with morbidity. Morbidity was significantly associated with age (b value 0.06, 95% CI: 0.01, 0.12), sex (b value 1.03, 95% CI: 0.02, 2.05), and occupation (b value 0.20, 95% CI: 0.07, 0.33).

CONCLUSIONS: A high mean number of morbidities (6.1, SD 2.9) was observed. Elderly subjects with higher morbidity had increasing disability and distress. Age, sex, and occupation were important determinants of morbidity. Assessment of the morbidity profile and its determinants will help in the application of interventions, both medical and social, to improve the health status and thus the quality of life of the elderly in Northern India.

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