Understanding health trends

A crucial public health question is whether increases in life expectancy have been accompanied by increasing or decreasing prevalence rates of health problems among the oldest persons in the population. We have explored health trends among the oldest old (ages 77+) in Sweden during the period 1992‒2011. The study is based on nationally representative survey data (SWEOLD) and encompasses many indicators of health and physical function. The preliminary results showed increases in prevalence rates of pain, psychological problems, and impaired mobility and decreased lung function during the period. Self-rated health and physical function remained unchanged. However, despite the increases in health problems, the proportion of the oldest old reporting that they need help with their basic activities of daily living decreased during the period. On average, older women have more health problems than older men, but the development over time is similar.

Finally, data from the Kungsholmen Project and the SNAC-K study showed that the prevalence of dementia remained stable from 1987‒1989 and 2001‒2004 in central Stockholm, Sweden, whereas the survival of patients with dementia increased1. The results suggest that the incidence of dementia might have decreased over the last two decades of observation in this region. This study has significant implications for forecasting the societal burden of dementia and suggests that better prevention and treatment of vascular disease may be responsible for such dementia risk decline.

  1. Qiu C, von Strauss E, Bäckman L, Winblad B, Fratiglioni L. Twenty-year changes in dementia occurrence suggest decreasing incidence in central Stockholm, Sweden. Neurology 2013; 80:1888-1894.