Health update: Living longer could depend on it

Seniors can take hope from a new health study into the diseases impacting them.

New research has found major killers including heart disease, cancer, infectious diseases, and injuries, are becoming less deadly – but the long-term impacts can still be debilitating.

The good news

Fewer of us are dying from major diseases such as heart disease, cancer, infectious disease, and injuries.

A new study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), measured the years of healthy life Australians lost due to 219 diseases and 40 risk factors. Years living with poor health (the non-fatal burden of disease) or dying prematurely (fatal burden) are estimated using disability-adjusted life years (DALY).

According to the study, there was a 45% decrease in the rates of fatal disease burden from heart disease between 2003 and 2018, while fatality rates from infectious diseases dropped by 38%.

There was also a decline in total disease burden from stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung and bowel cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. 

The bad news

The AIHW study also found cancer contributes the biggest disease burden – including years of healthy life lost – and heart disease still accounts for the biggest proportion of the fatal disease burden.

Total burden also increased for dementia, and back pain and other back problems.

For 45- to 74-year-olds, musculoskeletal conditions and cancer were leading causes of total burden, while those aged over 75 years had heart disease and stroke, dementia and COPD as the major causes of total burden.

Suicide is among the top five causes, with the highest average years of life lost each year. Three-quarters of suicide and self-harm injuries were males, and was most common for 25- to 34-year-olds.

On average, people who die from suicide lose 42 years of their life. This is much higher than leading causes of death such as coronary heart disease (12 years), dementia (7 years) and lung cancer (17 years); and similar to road transport injuries (43 years) and drug use disorders (41 years). 

Remoteness and disadvantage

“The highest rates of burden (DALY) from suicide and self-harm were among people living in remote and very remote areas, being 2.3 times higher than in major cities. In addition, burden (DALY) rates among people living in the most disadvantaged socioeconomic areas was twice as high as those in the least disadvantaged socioeconomic areas,” said AIHW spokesperson Richard Juckes.

Risk factors

Four key risk factors included:

  • Child abuse and neglect during childhood of persons aged 5 years and over
  • Alcohol use among persons aged 15 years and over
  • Illicit drug use among persons aged 15 years and over
  • Intimate partner violence against females aged 15 years and over.

“Child abuse and neglect during childhood was consistently the leading behavioural risk factor contributing to suicide and self-inflicted injuries in both males and females aged 5-plus between 2003 and 2019. In 2019, it contributed one third of the total burden in females and 24% in males,” Mr Juckes said. 

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare