Published on 17 March 2016

Over the last decade the number of older people living with more than one chronic health condition, including type 2 diabetes, has risen by 10%, according to a new report.

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded researchers have found that more older people now have at least one chronic health condition, adding further strain on NHS health budgets amid a rise in long-term conditions and people living longer.

The study, recently published in the online journal the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, examined more than 15,000 people in England over 10 years and found that there was an increasing trend in people aged over 50 developing a second or third health condition. It also reported that people who were physically active were healthier.

A person getting their blood pressure checked.

Older people with type 2 diabetes may be more likely to have additional health problems

The study findings reported the percentage of older people with multiple conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis had steadily increased from 31.7% in 2002/03 to 43.1% in 2012/13.

Researchers also found that the proportion of older people without a chronic condition decreased over the same period from 33.9% to 26%.

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, based at the Leicester Diabetes Centre, said: “The prevalence of multimorbidity, where people have more than one chronic condition, in older adults is steadily increasing over time.

“The current models of care globally are based on the management of individual chronic conditions. However, given the increase in multimorbidity over the past 10 years and the complex needs of these patients, clinical guidelines need to address the challenges in management of multimorbidity and formulate best practices to guide clinical decision making for these patients.”

Fellow researcher Dr Nafeesa Dhalwani, also from the University of Leicester based at the Leicester Diabetes Centre, added: “Multimorbidity has become one of the main challenges in the recent years for patients, health care providers and the health care systems globally.

“Literature describing the burden of multimorbidity in the elderly population, especially trends over longer periods is very limited. Physical activity is recommended as one of the main lifestyle changes in the prevention and management of multiple chronic diseases worldwide, however, the evidence on its association with multimorbidity remains inconclusive. This was an observational study so it can tell us about the trends, but it cannot tell us about the causes of multimorbidity because other factors could be involved. We would need to run an experimental trial to see the causal effects of physical activity.”

The study was carried out by researchers at the Leicester Diabetes Centre and funded by the NIHR Leicester-Loughborough Diet, Lifestyle and Physical Activity BRU and NIHR CLAHRC East Midlands.

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