Morbidity and disability in 75- and 80-year-old men and women. A five-year follow-up

P Laukkanen, R Sakari-Rantala, M Kauppinen, E Heikkinen
Scandinavian Journal of Social Medicine. Supplementum 1997, 53: 79-106
Purpose of this report is to describe the changes that occurred in morbidity, symptoms of illness and disability of 75- and 80-year-old residents of Jyväskylä, Finland, over a five-year period. The study population consisted of the elderly residents of the city of Jyväskylä in central Finland who were born in 1914 and 1910. At baseline (in 1989 and 1990), 355 (92.9%) persons from the younger age group and 262 (91.9%) from the older age group were interviewed and 311 (81.4%) and 230 (80.7%), respectively, took part in the physical examination. At follow-up (in 1994 and 1995), the corresponding numbers were 250 (93.3%) and 148 (88.6%) for the interviews and 217 (81.0%) and 127 (76.0%) for the physical examinations. The prevalence of chronic conditions was determined in connection with the medical examinations on the basis of self-report and the respondent's prescriptions and medical information cards. To measure the occurrence of symptoms, the respondents were asked whether during the past 14 days they had suffered from any of 17 listed symptoms. Functional capacity was assessed in connection with the interview carried out at the respondent's home in terms of needing help in activities of daily living (ADL). In the baseline examinations, subjects were found to have on average 2-3 diseases. During the follow-up the number of diseases and the proportion of people with co-morbidity increased in both age groups. Both men and women had on average 1-2 symptoms that caused them much trouble, and the number of such symptoms increased to some extent during the follow-up. The proportions of those needing help increased during the follow-up in all groups and the increase was most prominent among the women of the older age group. Of those who managed independently with physical ADL (PADL) at baseline, 14.9%-44.9% reported need of help in at least one task at follow-up. The need for help in PADL was greatest with cutting toe-nails, negotiating stairs, moving outdoors, washing the upper body and in instrumental ADL (IADL) with vacuuming, shopping, handling finances and in the use of public transport. Successful prevention and postponement of functional disabilities in the elderly population depends not only on the early diagnosis of illness but also on identifying even minor signs and symptoms of disease and functional limitations, and to focus health care interventions accordingly.

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