Background: Disability in elderly people in countries with low and middle incomes is little studied; according to Global Burden of Disease estimates, visual impairment is the leading contributor to years lived with disability in this population. We aimed to assess the contribution of physical, mental, and cognitive chronic diseases to disability, and the extent to which sociodemographic and health characteristics account for geographical variation in disability.
Methods: We undertook cross-sectional surveys of residents aged older than 65 years (n=15 022) in 11 sites in seven countries with low and middle incomes (China, India, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, and Peru). Disability was assessed with the 12-item WHO disability assessment schedule 2.0. Dementia, depression, hypertension, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were ascertained by clinical assessment; diabetes, stroke, and heart disease by self-reported diagnosis; and sensory, gastrointestinal, skin, limb, and arthritic disorders by self-reported impairment. Independent contributions to disability scores were assessed by zero-inflated negative binomial regression and Poisson regression to generate population-attributable prevalence fractions (PAPF).
Findings: In regions other than rural India and Venezuela, dementia made the largest contribution to disability (median PAPF 25.1% [IQR 19.2-43.6]). Other substantial contributors were stroke (11.4% [1.8-21.4]), limb impairment (10.5% [5.7-33.8]), arthritis (9.9% [3.2-34.8]), depression (8.3% [0.5-23.0]), eyesight problems (6.8% [1.7-17.6]), and gastrointestinal impairments (6.5% [0.3-23.1]). Associations with chronic diseases accounted for around two-thirds of prevalent disability. When zero inflation was taken into account, between-site differences in disability scores were largely attributable to compositional differences in health and sociodemographic characteristics.
Interpretation: On the basis of empirical research, dementia, not blindness, is overwhelmingly the most important independent contributor to disability for elderly people in countries with low and middle incomes. Chronic diseases of the brain and mind deserve increased prioritisation. Besides disability, they lead to dependency and present stressful, complex, long-term challenges to carers. Societal costs are enormous.
Funding: Wellcome Trust; WHO; US Alzheimer's Association; Fondo Nacional de Ciencia Y Tecnologia, Consejo de Desarrollo Cientifico Y Humanistico, Universidad Central de Venezuela.