Health conditions and disability a complex mix

The complexity of relationships among disability severity, health conditions and personal and environmental factors has been highlighted by a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Disability and its Relationship to Health Conditions and Other Factors allows the reader to assess the impact of these various health conditions in terms of their contribution to disability.

As AIHW report co-author Dr Xingyan Wen says, ranking health conditions in terms of their prevalence revealed very different patterns from ranking them in terms of the likelihood of their being associated with severe disability.

'Conditions such as asthma, hypertension, arthritis and hearing are all relatively prevalent but are relatively unlikely (less than 25% of people with the condition) to be associated with severe disability.

'In contrast, conditions associated with intellectual, learning, psychiatric and neurological disorders were less prevalent but very likely to be associated with severe disability. For instance over 90% of people reporting autism, dementia or Down syndrome had severe disability.'

The analyses that were conducted, says Dr Wen, showed that it was not possible to predict precisely the severity of disability even when a wide range of health conditions, personal and environmental factors were taken into account. Moreover, the relationships between all these factors are very complex.

'It is hoped however, that this new way of looking at these complex interrelationships will aid our understanding of the measurement of disability and functioning.'

Other findings include:

  • About 95% of people with autism, 84% of people with dementia, 83% of people with Down syndrome, and 78% of people with cerebral palsy needed help with at least two basic daily activities, such as mobility, self-care or communication.
  • In contrast, between 85% and 95% of people with back problems, asthma, hypertension, and arthritis either required no assistance or needed help with only one basic daily activity.
  • People with dementia were most likely to have multiple disabilities, and people with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy were also highly likely to have multiple disabilities.

10 December 2004


Further information: Xingyan Wen, AIHW tel. 02 6244 1177, mobile 0407 915 851, or Ros Madden, AIHW tel. 02 6244 1189.
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032.