70% of octogenarians suffer dual chronic illness

Roughly 70% of Americans over 80 have at least two coexisting chronic conditions, such as arthritis and diabetes, according to John Wasson, MD, of Dartmouth (NJ) Medical School.1 All too often, these patients’ needs are not adequately being met.

The 80+ Project, which Wasson heads, gathers information on this growing segment of the population to give providers and case managers the information necessary to improve quality of care for the elderly.

Researchers with the 80+ Project examined the extent to which health system encounters addressed patients’ needs. They conducted a telephone survey of 834 randomly selected members of a New England health system. Respondents reported frequent contact with the health care system. Researchers found:

• 93% had seen a doctor in the last six months.

• Roughly 20% had been hospitalized in the preceding six months.

• 97% of respondents had a primary care physician who was a generalist.

• 10% reported trouble getting care or delays in care due to cost barriers.

• 22% reported structural barriers to care, such as difficulty in getting an appointment.

• Of the 25% of respondents who reported having at least one of nine common geriatric problems, such as diabetes, 23% reported that they had not received treatment for those problems.

• 24% reported financial difficulties.

• 25% reported problems with activities of daily living.

The researchers found that insurance, a regular source of care, and a generalist primary care physician were not enough to ensure access to effective health care in the elderly.


1. Bierman A, Magari ES, Jette AM, et al. Assessing access as a first step towards improving the quality of care for the very old. J Ambulatory Care Management 1998; 21:17-26.