4430.0 - Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2009 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/12/2010   
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Four million people in Australia (18.5%) reported having a disability in 2009, according to the results of the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). For the purposes of SDAC, disability is defined as any limitation, restriction or impairment which restricts everyday activities and has lasted or is likely to last for at least six months. Examples range from loss of sight that is not corrected by glasses, to arthritis which causes difficulty dressing, to advanced dementia that requires constant help and supervision. Males and females were similarly affected by disability (18% and 19% respectively). (Table 1)

The rate of disability increased with age. Almost nine in ten people aged 90 and over (88%) had a disability, compared with 3.4% of those aged four years and under. (Table 1)

The prevalence of disability in Australia has fallen 1.5 percentage points since 2003. In 2003, 20% of Australians had a reported disability, compared with 18.5% in 2009. After removing the effects of different age structures the age standardised rate also fell by 2.1 percentage points. (Table 1)

The rate of profound or severe limitation in the core activities of communication, mobility and self-care declined, from 6.3% in 2003 to 5.8% in 2009. Much of the decrease in the prevalence of disability between 2003 and 2009 is due to a decline in the proportion of Australians disabled by physical health conditions, such as asthma and heart disease. (Tables 2 and 4)


In 2009, there were 2.6 million carers who provided assistance to those who needed help because of disability or old age. Just under one third of these (29%) were primary carers; that is, people who provided the majority of the informal help needed by a person with a disability or aged 60 years and over. Over two-thirds of primary carers (68%) were women. (Table 5)


Just under one in five Australians (18.5%) had a reported disability in 2009. A further 21% had a long-term health condition that did not restrict their everyday activities. The remaining 60% of the Australian population had neither a disability nor a long term health condition. Of those with a reported disability, 87% had a specific limitation or restriction; that is, an impairment restricting their ability to perform communication, mobility or self-care activities, or a restriction associated with schooling or employment.


Disability prevalence

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)

All persons, Disability rates by age - 2003 and 2009
Graph: All persons, Disability rates by age—2003 and 2009


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).
(Table 5)

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)