Australian Bureau of Statistics
1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2007
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/01/2007
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CHRONIC CONDITIONS AND DISABILITY
CHRONIC CONDITIONS AND DISABILITY
One of the ways people with chronic disease may be affected by their illness is through disability. That is, they may be limited in being able to carry out at least one everyday activity, or in participating in education or employment, or have a physical impairment. The disability people experience results from several factors, including the combination of conditions they have, the severity of these conditions and external factors such as the physical environment, the attitudes of others, and the assistance available to them.
In 2003, 20% of the Australian population, or 4 million people, had a disability. This included 6% of the population (1.2 million people) with more severe disability. These were people who sometimes or always needed help with everyday tasks like walking or dressing, or who had difficulty communicating. The rates of disability increased with age and more severe disability accounted for a greater proportion of all disability at older ages.
People with disability usually had more than one chronic health condition. While there are various approaches to analysing the relationship between the health conditions and the disabilities reported, a simple question 'What is the condition causing most problems?' was included in the 2003 SDAC. The most common specific main condition was a musculoskeletal condition - back problems, reported by 610,000 people. When combined, the ten leading specific main conditions were reported by 53% of all people with a disability (table 9.15).
The 1.4 million people reporting a musculoskeletal condition as the condition causing most problems comprised 34% of the 4 million people with a disability. Back problems and arthritis were the most common main conditions within this group, reported by 15% and 14% of people with a disability respectively. They were also the most common specific main conditions reported out of any condition group.
The types of disability which caused most problems for people with musculoskeletal conditions as the main condition were: chronic or recurring pain or discomfort (39%); restriction in physical activities (23%); and difficulty gripping or holding things (11%).
Mental and behavioural disorders
People with a mental or behavioural disorder as their main condition comprised 16% of people with a disability. The most common main conditions within this group were depression/mood (affective) disorders, reported as a main condition by 3% of people with a disability, followed by developmental disorders (2%) and nervous tension or stress (2%). The disability types causing most problems when mental and behavioural disorders were the main condition were: being slow at learning or understanding (33%); mental illness (20%); nervous or emotional conditions (18%); and speech difficulties (8%).
People reporting circulatory conditions as their main condition accounted for 9% of people with a disability. The specific circulatory conditions most commonly reported as main conditions were: hypertension (2%); stroke (2%); and heart disease (2%). The types of disability that people with circulatory conditions as their main condition reported as causing most problems were: restriction in physical activities or work (28%); loss of hearing (13%); breathing difficulties (11%); and chronic or recurring pain or discomfort (9%).
MORE SEVERE DISABILITY
Mental and behavioural conditions were more prominent as main conditions for more severe disability than for disability as a whole (table 9.16). They were reported as the conditions causing most problems for 23% of people with profound or severe core activity limitations compared with 16% of all people with disability. Nevertheless, musculoskeletal conditions were the most commonly reported main conditions for people with more severe disability (30%) as they were for all people with disability (34%).
Depression was one of the leading ten specific main conditions for more severe disability and disability as a whole. Three other specific mental and behavioural disorders were among the leading ten specific main conditions for more severe disability although they ranked lower for all disability. These were dementia, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) and autism and related disorders. (The three conditions that ranked among the leading ten for all disability but not for more severe disability were leg damage, migraine and hypertension.) Stroke ranked fourth among main conditions for more severe disability and tenth for disability as a whole.
Overall, 31% of all people with a disability had more severe disability. However, almost all of the 58,600 people with disability and with dementia as the main condition had more severe disability. Another leading main condition which was strongly associated with more severe disability was stroke - 49,500 of the 69,800 people who had a disability and who reported stroke as the main condition had more severe disability (71%). Of people with AD/HD as the main condition, 44% had more severe disability. Similarly, 30% of people with disability and depression/mood (affective) disorders as the main condition, and 30% of people with arthritis and related disorders as the main condition, had more severe disability.
1. National Health Priority Action Council, 2006, National Chronic Disease Strategy, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra.
2. World Health Organisation, Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, last viewed May 2006,
3. Department of Health and Ageing, Australian Better Health Initiative: promoting good health, prevention and early intervention, last viewed May 2006, <http://www.health.gov.au/internet/wcms/publishing.nsf/Content/feb2006coag03.htm>.
4. Department of Health and Ageing, Health priorities, last viewed May 2006,
This page last updated 16 January 2008
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