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The disability rate increases steadily with age, with younger people less likely to report a disability than older people. Of those aged four years and under, 3.4% were affected by disability, compared with 40% of those aged between 65 and 69 and 88% of those aged 90 years and over. (Table 1)
Rates of disability and rates of profound or severe core-activity limitation for 5 to 14 year old males (11% and 6.6% respectively) were close to double those for females in the same age group (6.1% and 3.0% respectively). In contrast, women aged 90 years and over had a higher rate of profound or severe core-activity limitations (75%) than men of the same age (58%). (Tables 1 and 2)
While the prevalence of disability amongst the Australian population declined 1.5 percentage points, the decrease is particularly noticeable in the younger age groups. From 2003 to 2009, the disability rate for 15 to 24 year olds fell from 9.0% to 6.6%. Over the same period the rate of disability also decreased for those aged between 25 and 34 from 11% to 8.6%. Similarly, 22% of 45 to 54 year olds reported a disability in 2003, compared with 18% in 2009. (Table 1)
The incidence of disability caused by physical conditions, as opposed to mental or behavioural disorders, dropped from 17% in 2003, to 15% in 2009. For instance, in 2003, 6.8% of Australians had a disability primarily caused by musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis and back problems, with this proportion declining to 6.5% in 2009. Likewise, the incidence of disability caused by diseases of the circulatory system dropped from 1.8% to 1.4%. In 2003, 8.8% of people aged in the 65 years and older group reported a disability due to diseases of the circulatory system, compared with 7.4% in 2009. (Table 4)
The incidence of disability caused by asthma also declined, from 0.8% in 2003 to 0.5% in 2009. Amongst younger people (0 to 17 years), the incidence of disability caused by asthma almost halved between 2003 and 2009, from 0.9% in 2003 to 0.5% in 2009. Of those aged between 18 and 44 years, the incidence of asthma-related disability also decreased, from 0.5% in 2003 to 0.3%. In addition, for this age group, the proportion of people with a disability due to back problems reduced, from 2.6% in 2003 to 1.9% in 2009. (Table 4)
The incidence of disability due to back problems also declined amongst those aged between 45 and 64 years. In this age group, 5.2% of people reported a disability as a result of back problems in 2009, compared with 6.0% in 2003. By contrast, the prevalence of disability resultant from back problems amongst those aged 65 and over has increased since 2003, from 4.9% to 6.3%. (Table 4)
The proportion of Australians involved in caring for a person with a disability or an older person declined from 13% in 2003 to 12% in 2009, in line with the decrease in disability prevalence. In 2009, just under one in three carers (29%) were identified as a primary carer; that is, a person who provided the majority of help to a person with a disability or aged 60 years and over. In 2003, 19% of carers were identified as primary carers and much of this increase is explained by a change in the methodology to ascertain carer status in the 2009 survey (see paragraphs 48 and 49 in the Explanatory Notes for further information about the change in methodology).
Thirteen percent of women were involved in a caring role, compared with 11% of men. The gender difference among carers was most pronounced for those aged 45 to 54 years, 16% of men and 23% of women in this age group provided care for a person with a disability or aged 60 years and over. (Table 5)
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