The Disabling Effect of Diseases: A Study on Trends in Diseases, Activity Limitations, and Their Interrelationships

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ObjectivesData from the Netherlands indicate a recent increase in prevalence of chronic diseases and a stable prevalence of disability, suggesting that diseases have become less disabling. We studied the association between chronic diseases and activity limitations in the Netherlands from 1990 to 2008.MethodsFive surveys among noninstitutionalized persons aged 55 to 84 years (n = 54 847) obtained self-reported data on chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, peripheral arterial disease, stroke, lung disease, joint disease, back problems, and cancer) and activity limitations (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] long-term disability questionnaire or 36-item Short Form Health Survey [SF-36]).ResultsPrevalence rates of chronic diseases increased over time, whereas prevalence rates of activity limitations were stable (OECD) or slightly decreased (SF-36). Associations between chronic diseases and activity limitations were also stable (OECD) or slightly decreased (SF-36). Surveys varied widely with regard to disease and limitation prevalence rates and the associations between them.ConclusionsThe hypothesis that diseases became less disabling from 1990 to 2008 was only supported by results based on activity limitation data as assessed with the SF-36. Further research on how diseases and disability are associated over time is needed.

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