Abstract Background

1. Introduction

There has been considerable research on trends in health of the older American population focused on trends in disability [Crimmins, Saito, and Reynolds 1997, Manton, Stallard, and Corder 1997]. Disability is an important dimension of health but clarification of trends in the other health dimensions is important for understanding overall trends in health. In recent conceptualizations of the dimensions of health, the onset of diseases and conditions are seen as the initial health changes underlying functioning loss and disability [Verbrugge and Jette 1994]. For this reason, change over time in the prevalence of disease is important in monitoring trends in the health of the older population.

Change in the prevalence of diseases is an important indicator of the combined effects of past levels of, and changes in, mortality and disease incidence on subsequent population health. Empirical evidence on trends in disease provides an additional indicator of whether current mortality and incidence trends are leading to a compression or expansion of morbidity. Linking functioning loss and disability to disease can provide evidence of whether the severity of diseases as well as the presence of diseases has changed over time. Finally, the cost of health care is highly related to the number of persons who must be treated or monitored for various diseases; so the number of people with diseases provides a valuable indicator of the potential demand for health care.

This paper will address the following questions: How has the prevalence of major diseases and conditions changed in the older population of the United States between 1984 and 1994? How has the severity of disability and functioning loss among those with diseases changed over the period? How has comorbidity or the prevalence of multiple conditions changed in this period?


Abstract Background

Change in the Prevalence of Diseases among Older Americans: 1984-1994
Eileen M. Crimmins, Yasuhiko Saito
© 2000 Max-Planck-Gesellschaft ISSN 1435-9871