The number of elderly people suffering from two or more chronic illnesses is rising – increasing pressure on the NHS, reveals a new study.
Researchers found the number of people in England aged over 50 living with more than one chronic condition could have risen by 10 per cent in the last decade.
And the findings show that only around one in four people over 50 today DOESN’T have a chronic health problem – such as diabetes, high blood pressure or arthritis, compared to one in three just 10 years ago.
The study, which examined more than 15,000 people in England over 10 years, showed there was an increasing trend in people aged over 50 developing a second or third disease.
Researchers also found that people who were physically active were healthier.
The study showed that more older people now have at least one chronic disease, adding further strain on health budgets amid a rise in long-term conditions and people living longer.
The percentage of older people with multiple conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis, steadily increased from 31.7 per cent in 2002/03 to 43.1 per cent in 2012/13, according to the findings published online by the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.
Researchers also found the proportion of older people without a chronic condition decreased over the same period from 33.9 per cent to 26.8 per cent.
Professor Kamlesh Khunti, of Leicester University, said: “The prevalence of multi-morbidity, where people have more than one chronic condition, in older adults is steadily increasing over time.
“The current models of care globally are based on the management of individual chronic conditions.
“However, given the increase in multi-morbidity over the past 10 years and the complex needs of these patients, clinical guidelines need to address the challenges in management of multi-morbidity and formulate best practices to guide clinical decision making for these patients.”
Fellow researcher Dr Nafeesa Dhalwani, also from Leicester University and based at the Leicester Diabetes Centre, added: “Multi-morbidity has become one of the main challenges in the recent years for patients, health care providers and the health care systems globally.
“Literature describing the burden of multi-morbidity in the elderly population, especially trends over longer periods is very limited.
“Physical activity is recommended as one of the main lifestyle changes in the prevention and management of multiple chronic diseases worldwide, however, the evidence on its association with multi-morbidity remains inconclusive.
Dr Dhalwani added: “This was an observational study so it can tell us about the trends, but it cannot tell us about the causes of multi-morbidity because other factors could be involved.
“We would need to run an experimental trial to see the causal effects of physical activity.”
By Stephen Beech