Socioeconomic inequalities in health in the oldest old over time

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It is known that socioeconomic inequalities in health prevail in the old age; not a lot is known, however, on how such inequalities have developed over time.

In a study we just published, the authors aimed to explore the trends in educational inequalities in health among adults aged 77+  years in Sweden from 1992 to 2011. The data used came from a national representative Swedish survey of people aged 77+ (SWEOLD) from 1992, 2002 and 2011. Health problems assessed included musculoskeletal pain, psychological distress, impaired mobility, activities of daily living, impaired physical function and lung function.

The analysis was cross-sectional and showed the following:

– The prevalence of all indicators of health problems (apart from activities of daily living) increased during this period. The prevalence of indicators for problems on activities of daily living on the other hand decreased significantly.

– All indicators of health (minus psychological distress) were distinctively stratified by education: people with grade school education or less were more likely to report and exhibit health problems.

In summary, it seems  that health status of the oldest old has decreased over the last 2 decades in Sweden. On the other hand, the rates of disability decreased significantly.

The authors conclude that the association between socioeconomic position and health is very robust: it persists into the oldest age groups, it is found in a variety of health outcomes and seems to be stable over long periods of time.

** This study was written by Stefan Fors and Mats Thorslund

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