National Women's Health Policy

4. Healthy ageing

Page last updated: 07 February 2011


In 2003, approximately 309 million Australians had some degree of disability, of whom 1.2 million (6.9 per cent of the population) had severe or profound core limitations. Rates of severe disability vary with age, increasing from 2 per cent of young adults to 12 per cent of adults aged 65 to 74 years and 58 per sent of those aged over 85 years.34

Of long-term conditions, the most commonly reported for women are osteoarthritis and migraines.

column graph showing the percentage of women in the population living with a disability in 2003


Dementia is a syndrome associated with a range of diseases causing general and increasing impairment of brain function such as memory reasoning and understanding. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimers's disease but many other causes exist such as vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia and dementias associated with diseases such as HIV and Parkinson's disease as well as alcohol and other substance abuse.

Dementia is not a natural part of ageing but is associated with the aged. It is estimated to be the leading burden of disease in the 75 years + age group in 2010 and accounts for 4 per cent of the total disease burden.35

Females have higher dementia rates than males in the older age groups. The difference is greatest in the oldest age group, where an estimated 25 per cent of females had dementia compared to 17 per cent of males.

Arthritis and osteoporosis

National Health Survey data indicates 31 per cent of Australians report having arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition, such as osteoporosis. Arthritis affects over 3.1 million people with rates of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis being higher among women than men.

Osteoporosis increases with age and is closely associated with hospital presentations for minimal trauma fracture and hip fracture. There were almost 82,000 hospitalisations for minimal trauma fractures in 2007-08.

What are women's experiences of the health issues identified under the priority areas?

While many areas of women's health have improved, there are still areas of concern for all women and especially for women within specific groups within Australia. Chapter Three examines the priority health areas identified in Chapter Two and looks at the impact of various health issues on marginalised groups.