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A new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare examines trends in life and health expectancy for people with and without disabilities over the period from 1988 to 2003.
The report, Life expectancy and disability in Australia 1988-2003, examines whether the years of life lived with disability are increasing along with overall gains in life expectancy.
'While life expectancy refers to the average number of years a person of a given age and sex can expect to live, health expectancy extends that concept to include disease and disability, and refers to the number of years a person could expect to live in a defined state of health,' explains report author Dr Xingyan Wen.
'As people are living longer, they are living a greater part of their life with a disability. This is especially true for older Australians, although this related chiefly to those with a less severe disability.
'The ageing of the Australian population and the greater longevity of individuals are leading to more people, especially those at older ages, with a disability,' Dr Wen said.
Overall, females had higher life and health expectancies than males, in both the years with disability and the years free from disability, although these gaps were much smaller at older ages.
In 2003, males could expect, on average, to experience 18.6 years of life with a disability, whereas females could expect 20.7 years of life lived with a disability.
Those figures changed when the disability was severe, or profoundly activity limiting, for example when assistance was needed for self-care, mobility and/or communication. In those cases, the figures dropped to 5.4 years for males and to 8.3 years for females.
However, the proportion of expected life free from disability and, in particular, free from a severe or profound activity limitation, was lower for older females than for older males.
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