More than one in five women and a sixth of men in Europe over the age of 65 will be afflicted by serious physical disabilities before mid-century, according to a study published Tuesday.
That is only somewhat higher than the proportion today, but ageing populations and increasing longevity across Europe mean that the number of older people — with and without disability — is set to increase sharply, researchers reported in the medical journal BMJ Open.
The findings are bad news for healthcare system budgets, as well as future households tending to elderly family members unable to perform simply tasks such as dressing or cooking food, the authors warned.
“We expect more people aged at least 65 years with severe, long-term limitations within the upcoming 30 years,” said senior author Daniela Weber, a researcher at the Wittgenstein Centre of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria.
“This is likely to have considerable implications for providing supported care, and the training of healthcare professionals.”
Previous estimates, based in part on self-reporting, have underestimated the proportion of the elderly who will be living with disability, the researchers found.
Drawing from surveys conducted in 26 European countries, Weber and colleague Sergei Scherbov adjusted the results for cultural differences.
“We took into account the various cultural and national influences in the self-assessment of the state of health,” said Weber.
In Germany, for example, 27 percent of women 65 and older reported at least one long-term health problem. In the Netherlands, by contrast, only 12 percent of woman the same age made the same complaint.
Since the two countries have comparable health systems and almost equal life expectancy, the differences are likely due in large part to “subjective assessments,” the researchers found.
Once such differences were ironed out, the study projected that 21 percent of women 65 and up, and around 17 percent of men, will be coping with serious physical problems by 2047.