Aging in context: health trends, inequalities and lifestyle in the aging population

PI: Carin Lennartsson, carin.lennartsson@ki.se

Since the early 1990s, our multidisciplinary group has used survey data to describe the diverse health and living conditions in the older population and to investigate inequalities in late-life health. “Aging in context” extends this work, which remains relevant because the population has changed in ways that influence health in old age. For instance, over the past two decades, the older population has grown in absolute and relative numbers. People born more recently have more education than those from previous generations. More women are now in the labor market, and fewer people are manual workers. Our research focuses on such changes and their consequences: What is the health status of the growing population of older adults? How have prevalence rates of late-life health and disability changed over time as the older population has grown? Do health trends differ between various groups of older adults?

To answer such questions, we use up to 46 years of follow-up data from the Swedish Level of Living Survey (LNU), a panel survey of 6000 adults living in Sweden, first conducted in 1968, and from the Swedish Panel Study of Living Conditions of the Oldest Old (SWEOLD). SWEOLD, started in 1992 and most recently conducted in 2014, includes people earlier included in the LNU sample who are over the age limit of 75. Together, the two surveys allow us to analyze characteristics of the population from middle age into old age. Variables include family and working conditions, socioeconomic indicators, leisure activities, care utilization, health, and health behavior. Data on income, drug prescriptions, in-patient care, social care, and mortality are drawn from population registers.

Recent developments in our work include explaining health trends, analyzing combinations of health indicators to estimate complex care needs, and exploring living conditions and diversity in extreme old age (centenarians). The overarching aim is to understand the changing patterns of health and living conditions throughout the individual life course and in the context of an aging population.

The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life, and Welfare (Forte).