Date posted: 12/12/2017 5 min read

Does longer life expectancies mean many years with a lower quality of life

The fear of long-term infirmity in middle age is a significant concern for those currently aged between 35 and 65.

In brief

  • Australians average life expectancies are increasing
  • The AIHW have published two reports this year about health and disability periods for Australians
  • These reports show that we can all expect to live longer and be healthier for longer

The fear of long-term infirmity in middle age is a significant concern for those currently aged between 35 and 65.

There seems to be a dread that longer life will mean many poor quality of life years.

This sounds fair enough. But what do the stats show?

This year the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has issued two fascinating documents about this topic.

The first released in April 2017 discusses Australians average life expectancies and expected years of living without disability.

AIHW publication

Life expectancy and disability in Australia: expected years living with and without disability

Read report

This report follows on from an earlier publication issued in November 2014.  Both reports rely on unpublished ABS data involving life expectancies and disability rates.

Two levels of disability are presented – one that involves a level of disability with no severe or profound core activity limitation; the other that includes acute or intense incapacity.

The most recent report reaffirms that the estimated years we can expect to live without disability has continued to improve.  Those aged 65 today can expect to have some disability for more than half of their remaining years.  However there are two points to note – firstly, the years of severe disability are getting shorter.  Moreover these statistics are skewed because someone aged 65 who does not already have a disability will have fewer years of disability than the estimates suggest.

“…along with the increase in life expectancy, Australians at age 65 gained more years free of disability and free of severe or profound core activity limitation than with it.”  From this the report concludes that “increasing longevity does not necessarily mean living with increasing rates or levels of disability”. (our emphasis)

The second release published earlier this month looks at health adjusted life expectancies – HALE – which “covers the full experience of the health consequences of disease and injury” whereas the expected years of living without disability released earlier this year looks at functional limitations of disability and selected long-term conditions considered to have equal impact.

HALE “extends the concept of life expectancy by considering the time spent living with disease or injury … and reflects the length of time an individual at a specific age can, on average, expect to live in full health”.

This report estimates that those currently aged 65 can expect three quarters of their remaining years to be lived in full health.

And although life expectancies are increasing, the report notes that we can expect the same percentage of our remaining lives to be in full health as previous research has discovered.  However these increases are not uniform across the nation – those from lower socio-economic groupings and remote or very remote areas have shorter life expectancies and can expect to experience more of their remaining years in ill health.

The most recent AIWH report

Health-adjusted life expectancy in Australia: expected years lived in full health 2011

Read Report

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