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Chronic Health Conditions: Changing Prevalence in an Aging Population and Some Implications for the Delivery of Health Care Services*

  • Frank T. Denton (a1) and Byron G. Spencer (a1)


Since the prevalence of many chronic health conditions increases with age, we might anticipate that as the population ages the proportion with one or more such conditions, and the cost of treatment, would rise. How much would the overall prevalence of chronic conditions increase in a quarter century if age-specific rates of prevalence did not change? How much would the requirements for health care resources increase? How much difference would it make to those requirements if people had fewer chronic conditions? The overall prevalence rates for almost all conditions associated mostly with old age would rise by more than 25 per cent, and health care requirements would grow more rapidly than the population – more than twice as rapidly in the case of hospital stays – if the rates for each age group remained constant. Even modest reductions in the average number of conditions at each age could result in substantial savings.

Parce que la prévalence de nombreuses conditions de santé chroniques augmente avec l’âge, nous pourrions anticiper que la proportion montrant une ou plusieurs de ces conditions, ainsi que les frais de traitement, augmenterait comme le vieillissement de la population. Combien la prévalence globale des affections chroniques augmenteraient en un quart de siècle si l’âge spécifiques des taux de prévalence n’ont pas changé? Les taux de prévalence globaux pour presque toutes les conditions qui découlent principalement de la vieillesse augmenteraient de plus de 25 pour cent, et les exigences en matière de santé auraient cru plus rapidement que la population – plus de deux fois plus rapidement dans le cas des séjours hospitaliers – si les taux pour chaque groupe d’âge sont restés constants. Combien serait requise pour l’augmentation des ressources de santé? Quelle différence rendrait-il à ces exigences si les gens avaient moins de maladies chroniques? Même de réductions modestes dans le nombre moyen de conditions à chaque âge pourraient entraîner des économies importantes.


Corresponding author

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to / La correspondance concernant cet article doit être adressées à: Frank T. Denton and Byron G. Spencer, McMaster University, Department of Economics, KTH-426, Hamilton, Ontario, L8S 4M4. (;


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This article was carried out as part of the SEDAP (Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population) Research Program. SEDAP is supported by a Major Collaborative Research Initiatives grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We are grateful for that support. The authors thank Christine Feaver for her assistance and two anonymous referees for helpful comments.



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Canadian Journal on Aging / La Revue canadienne du vieillissement
  • ISSN: 0714-9808
  • EISSN: 1710-1107
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-on-aging-la-revue-canadienne-du-vieillissement
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