Arthritis and osteoporosis significant contributors to disability in Australia

A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reveals that arthritis and osteoporosis are the most common causes of disability in Australia and contribute to a wide range of physical and functional impairments that affect quality of life.

Arthritis reduces mobility of joints and is a source of much pain and body stiffness. 'It can limit carrying out daily living activities, working, or the ability to participate in social activities,' said Dr Kuldeep Bhatia, Head of the National Centre for Monitoring Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Conditions located at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

It is estimated that almost 3 million Australians (16%) have arthritis or a related disorder, such as gout, and almost 586,000 Australians (3%) have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.

The report, Impairments and disability associated with arthritis and osteoporosis, shows that in 2003, arthritis was the main disabling condition for 546,000 Australians aged 35 years or over, while osteoporosis was the main source of disability for another 50,000 persons. A large proportion of these (around 265,000 persons) were of working age (35--64 years).

Almost 172,000 people with arthritis-associated disability and 10,000 with osteoporosis-associated disability have limitations relating to employment -- for example, restrictions on what type of job they can undertake, problems in changing jobs or difficulty in getting a preferred job.

More than 30% of people with arthritis-associated disability and almost 45% of people with osteoporosis-associated disability report profound or severe core activity restrictions, thus needing assistance with basic activities of daily living.

'Half of those people with arthritis-associated disability report problems in gripping or holding things, and experience difficulty with writing, turning taps or doorknobs, opening bottles and jars, preparing and eating meals, and brushing teeth and hair,' said Dr Naila Rahman, principal author of the report.

Almost two-thirds of people with osteoporosis-associated disability require assistance when using public transport and 40% require assistance with mobility outside their own home, which can reduce social participation and affect the ability to undertake everyday activities such as shopping or getting to appointments.

The quality of life of people with disability can be improved through modifications to the home and, occupational modifications and help from family members -- all of which can greatly reduce the impact of disability, allowing the person to maintain a level of independence.

7 September 2007

Further information: Dr Naila Rahman, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1057, mob. 0407 915 851.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.