Increased age has been found to have far less influence on health care costs than other factors such as age-related impairments and multiple chronic morbidities, according to researchers from King’s.
In a paper published in the European Journal of Health Economics, the team looked at UK electronic health records from one of the largest primary care databases in the world, the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, along with Hospital Episode Statistics, between 2010 and 2014.
They examined the health status of 98,220 participants aged 80 and over, including multiple comorbidities (cancer, heart disease, hypertension etc) and age-related impairments (falls, fractures, dementia etc), as well as proximity to death, to determine the main causes of health care costs in this elderly group.
They found that while costs generally increase with age from 80 to 96, this is followed by a decline in costs up to 100 years and older. However, comorbidities, impairments and proximity to death proved to have a stronger impact on health care costs compared to age alone. The study also found that the additional costs in the last year of life declined with age for those 80 years and over.
While we tend to focus on increased age as an important driver of higher health care costs, we should now shift our attention more towards multiple morbidity and frailty, as these prove to be significantly stronger factors than increased age itself. If we focus on reducing these, we could see increases in quality of life for older people. While proximity to death is still an important factor for health care costs, this is more difficult to determine.”
Researchers believe that the development of more effective health interventions, including health promotion and disease prevention programmes, will help minimise the cost pressures associated with ageing by ensuring that people stay healthy in their old age.