Many Seniors Had Multiple Chronic Illnesses

Life expectancy decreased with diagnosis of each additional condition

(RxWiki News) Many older Americans deal with more than one serious medical condition at a time. New research looked at how having more than one chronic disease affected average life expectancy.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University found that, for people 67 or older, life expectancy declined with each diagnosed chronic illness.

"Seek medical care to help you manage multiple conditions."

Eva DuGoff, MPP, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, led the research.

The researchers examined how a diagnosis with multiple chronic medical conditions affected life expectancy among the elderly. Four out of five older Americans had multiple chronic medical conditions, the researchers reported.

Dr. DuGoff and colleagues looked at the medical records of 1,372,272 Medicare insurance enrollees older than 67 to identify the presence of 21 conditions. The conditions included numerous types of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, stroke and heart failure, among others.

The researchers grouped the participants by sex, race, condition and number of conditions for an analysis of life expectancy. They found that life expectancy decreased with each additional chronic condition.

The average decline in life expectancy with each additional chronic condition was 1.8 years, according to the study.

A 67-year-old with no chronic conditions was expected to live on average 22.6 more years to the age of 89.6. A 67-year-old with five chronic conditions would live on average 14.9 more years to the age of 81.9.

The authors found that the results were consistent across race and sex.

“Living with multiple chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and heart failure is now the norm and not the exception in the United States,” Dr. DuGoff said in a press statement. “The medical advances that have allowed sick people to live longer may not be able to keep up with the growing burden of chronic disease. It is becoming very clear that preventing the development of additional chronic conditions in the elderly could be the only way to continue to improve life expectancy.”

The authors concluded that insurance regulators should account for a growing number of policy holders with multiple conditions when figuring population projections and finances.

Co-author Gerard Anderson, PhD, and professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a press release that juggling multiple chronic conditions can be difficult.

“We tend to think about diseases in isolation,” he said. “You have diabetes or you have heart failure. But many people have both, and then some. The balancing act needed to care for all of those conditions is complicated, more organ systems become involved as do more physicians prescribing more medications. Our system is not set up to care for people with so many different illnesses.”

The study was published in the August issue of peer-reviewed journal Medical Care.

The American Insurance Group provided funding. The study authors did not declare any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 24, 2014