A comparison of health expectancies over two decades in England: results of the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study I and II

Carol Jagger, Fiona E. Matthews, Pia Wohland, Tony Fouweather, Blossom C. M. Stephan, Louise Robinson, Antony Arthur, Carol Brayne

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Whether rises in life expectancy are increases in good-quality years is of profound importance worldwide, with population ageing. We investigate how various health expectancies have changed in England between 1991 and 2011, with identical study design and methods in each decade.

Baseline data from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies in populations aged 65 years or older in three geographically defined centres in England (Cambridgeshire, Newcastle, and Nottingham) provided prevalence estimates for three health measures: self-perceived health (defined as excellent–good, fair, or poor); cognitive impairment (defined as moderate–severe, mild, or none, as assessed by Mini-Mental State Examination score); and disability in activities of daily living (defined as none, mild, or moderate–severe). Health expectancies for the three regions combined were calculated by the Sullivan method, which applies the age-specific and sex-specific prevalence of the health measure to a standard life table for the same period.

Between 1991 and 2011, gains in life expectancy at age 65 years (4·5 years for men and 3·6 years for women) were accompanied by equivalent gains in years free of any cognitive impairment (4·2 years [95% CI 4·2–4·3] for men and 4·4 years [4·3–4·5] for women) and decreased years with mild or moderate–severe cognitive impairment. Gains were also identified in years in excellent or good self-perceived health (3·8 years [95% CI 3·5–4·1] for men and 3·1 years [2·7–3·4] for women). Gains in disability-free years were much smaller than those in excellent–good self-perceived health or those free from cognitive impairment, especially for women (0·5 years [0·2–0·9] compared with 2·6 years [2·3–2·9] for men), mostly because of increased mild disability.

During the past two decades in England, we report an absolute compression (ie, reduction) of cognitive impairment, a relative compression of self-perceived health (ie, proportion of life spent healthy is increasing), and dynamic equilibrium of disability (ie, less severe disability is increasing but more severe disability is not). Reasons for these patterns are unknown but might include increasing obesity during previous decades. Our findings have wide-ranging implications for health services and for extension of working life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779–786
Number of pages8
JournalThe Lancet
Issue number10020
Early online date8 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2016

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