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Diabetics likely to have much fewer disability-free years

Diabetes means disabilities will begin nine years sooner

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 18 April 2016

People with diabetes are likely to face disability, on average, around nine years sooner in their lives than people without the condition, according to new research* published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]).

Australian researchers found that not only is diabetes likely to slightly reduce a person’s life expectancy, but can also substantially reduce the years they live without disability, compared to people without diabetes.

Currently, there are more than 400 million people with diabetes worldwide – including 3.9 million people in the UK – with almost all countries reporting sharp increases in total cases in recent decades.

Around a third of young people aged 25 or under are predicted to develop diabetes at some point in their lives, but due to treatment advances, mortality rates from diabetes are decreasing.

The rising prevalence, together with the improvement in longevity, has prompted a greater emphasis on health-related quality of life in people with diabetes.

Researchers led by associate professor Dianna Magliano and Dr Lili Huo of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia, used data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study to determine diabetes rates in Australia, and disability data was used from the 2012 Australian Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC).

Mortality data were available by linking the National Diabetes Service Scheme to National Death Index for diabetes and from standard national mortality datasets for the general population.

The authors then produced estimates on both life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy.

They calculated that the estimated life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy at age 50 years were 30.2 and 12.7 years, respectively, for men with diabetes, and 33.9 and 13.1 years, respectively, for women with diabetes.

The estimated loss of life expectancy associated with diabetes at age 50 years was 3.2 years for men and 3.1 years for women, as compared to their counterparts without diabetes.

However, the corresponding estimated loss of disability-free life expectancy was 8.2 years for men and 9.1 years for women.

Women with diabetes spent a greater number of absolute years and a greater proportion of their life with disability from age 50 years (61%) as compared to men with diabetes (58%).

This was in comparison to women without diabetes (40%) and men without diabetes (38%).

The authors said that a number of factors were likely to be responsible for the loss of disability-free life expectancy in people with diabetes, such as blood vessel complications that can cause eyesight deterioration and also movement problems and amputations, as well as decline in brain functioning as people age.

They said: “The striking loss of disability-free life expectancy in diabetes reported in this study is likely to raise concern about the burden of diabetes in future decades, indicating a need to respond by implementing intervention and prevention of disability.”

Robin Hewings, head of policy for Diabetes UK, said: “This particular research sends yet another powerful message that as well as finding ways to prevent type 2 diabetes, which is linked to weight, it is also essential that people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes get the care and support they need to manage their condition effectively.”

* Huo L, et al. Burden of diabetes in Australia: life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy in adults with diabetes. Diabetologia, April 2016, pp 1-9. First online: 14 April 2016

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