Chronic conditions are the leading cause of illness, disability and death in Australia. People with disability are more likely to develop chronic conditions, and people with chronic conditions are more likely to develop disability.

This report uses data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers to explore the association between 8 selected chronic conditions and disability. The selected chronic conditions are: coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, emphysema, asthma, arthritis and related disorders, back pain and problems, and osteoporosis.

In 2015, more than 5.4 million Australians were estimated to have 1 of these selected chronic conditions, and for 3.7 million of these people, it was the condition causing them the most problems or their only health condition (main condition).

1 in 2 people with a selected chronic condition have disability

Half of all people with at least 1 of the selected chronic conditions (51%, or 2.8 million) also had disability, and fewer people (41%) reporting 1 of the selected chronic conditions as their main condition also had disability.

Older people have higher rates of disability

Rates of disability associated with each selected chronic condition tended to be higher among people aged 65 and over, but this difference was not always statistically significant.

Rates of disability were similar for men and women for each selected chronic condition and across age groups, except for osteoporosis, where men aged under 65 had a higher rate (79%) than women (64%).

Emphysema has the greatest effect on disability across all age groups

Having emphysema was associated with high rates of disability for all ages (around 88%) compared with those with other selected chronic conditions. For people aged 65 and over, disability rates were also high for those with stroke (82%). The lowest rates among this older group were for those with diabetes (62%). For people aged under 65, the rate of disability was lowest for those with asthma (30%).

Stroke associated with more severe limitations

About three-quarters (77%) of people with stroke as their main condition and disability had a profound or severe core activity limitation, and sometimes or always required assistance with communication, mobility and/or self-care. Those with the other selected chronic conditions did not tend to require assistance with core activities, but often required aids or equipment or had other limitations. Asthma was linked with the least severe limitations—more than one-third (36%) of people with asthma had no core activity limitation.

Common types of impairments, limitations and restrictions across all selected chronic conditions and disability included restrictions in physical activities or work, chronic or recurring pain or discomfort, difficulty gripping or holding things, and hearing loss.

Disability rate for people with chronic conditions has fallen over time

The prevalence of disability among people with the selected chronic conditions as their main condition fell from 36% to 28% between 2003 and 2015. The total number of people reporting these conditions, and these conditions with disability, however, remained stable over the period.