irishtimes– Ireland has the lowest rate of multi-morbidity across four similarly profiled countries but the highest level of people suffering from osteoporosis, a major new study has found.
The research, which spanned populations in Ireland, England, the US and Canada, was led by Tilda, the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, and published on Tuesday.
It focused on multi-morbidity disease cluster patterns, prevalence and health risk factors to help identify implications for public health policy. Multi-morbidity is the co-occurrence of two or more chronic diseases.
Specifically, it was concerned with lifetime prevalence of 10 common chronic cardiovascular and mental health conditions among 62,111 older adults aged between 52 and 85 across the four countries.
They were among the top 14 ranks of the 2018 UN Human Development Index, allowing for suitable comparison. With comprehensive analysis of macro data samples, Ireland fared quite well compared to its international counterparts – showing the lowest prevalence of six of the 10 diseases examined.
Multi-morbidity was lowest in Ireland at 38.6 per cent, and highest in the US at 60.7 per cent. However, Ireland had the highest prevalence of osteoporosis.
Professor Rose Anne Kenny, principal investigator at Tilda and study co-author said the research shows that preventing the development of chronic diseases could be beneficial in delaying or preventing dementia-related disease or cognitive impairment.
“We know that Ireland has the second highest rate of obesity in the EU, while dementia rates are estimated to more than double in the next 25 years, to over 150,000 by 2045,” she said. “This research clearly outlines why targeted health interventions and campaigns are needed to encourage healthier habits and behaviours to help prevent or delay the development of diseases.”
Socio-economic disparity was found across all four countries; those with higher levels of education and income generally had better health. Elevated Body Mass Index (BMI) was also identified as a risk factor for high disease burden and multi-morbidity.
The study noted a world population both ageing and expanding rapidly. Patients living with multi-morbidity can have complex medical needs that pose challenges to healthcare capacity and costs. Preventing and improving how multi-morbidity and age-related diseases are managed and treated is crucial, it said.
A somewhat bleaker picture of health was painted in the US which had “significantly higher” prevalence of hypertension, stroke, angina, heart attacks, arthritis, cancer, lung disease and psychiatric illnesses.
Despite spending more per capita on healthcare than the other countries, it demonstrated the highest prevalence of nine out of 10 common chronic, cardiovascular and mental health conditions compared to Ireland.
The odds of having diabetes in the US was double that of Ireland or England even after controlling for factors such as age, sex, education, income, employment status, BMI, smoking and alcohol consumption.
“Chronic illnesses are the leading cause of death worldwide,” said Dr Belinda Hernandez, senior research fellow at Tilda and lead author.
“These conditions rarely happen in isolation and commonly occur together. This is a particularly important issue for our health care service and for public health policy in ageing societies.”