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Which generations will be hit hardest by arthritis?

Arthritis is not only painful, it can have an impact on your mental health and cause frustration for being unable to undertake day-to-day activities.

<p>We all age over time and as we get older, we’re liable to get age-related diseases. [Source: Shutterstock]</p>

We all age over time and as we get older, we’re liable to get age-related diseases. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • In 2025, 4.1 million Australians will have arthritis, increasing to 5.39 million by 2040 — a 31 percent rise with population growth
  • Osteoarthritis will be the most common type, impacting over 2.3 million people in 2025 and growing to 3.1 million by 2040 — a 32 percent increase
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis will affect about 8,201 children, aged 0 – 18 years, in 2025, with a slight increase by 2040

 

New forecast projections released by Arthritis Australia reveal Millennials are facing a painful and debilitating health crisis by 2040, set to become a demographic significantly impacted by arthritis within Australia’s workforce, with one in six expected to be suffering from arthritis as they step into what should be their most productive and fulfilling decades.

Over 5.3 million Australians are predicted to be living with the pain and disability of arthritis by 2040, according to new projections by researchers at Monash University’s School of Public Health & Preventive Medicine, marking a sharp 31 percent increase from today’s figures as the population grows and ages.

This means an average of around 85,000 new cases of arthritis will occur annually. At the heart of this will be osteoarthritis, but rheumatoid arthritis isn’t far behind, with cases expected to jump 33 percent by 2040 or over 12,400 new cases, on average, per year.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease damaging cartilage and other joint structures, leading to pain, swelling and reduced mobility, commonly affecting knees, hips, hands and the spine — often related to ageing or injury.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues, causing inflammation in the joints that leads to pain, swelling and eventually joint deformity, commonly affecting hands and feet.

In addition, 45 percent of people aged 45 and over with arthritis described their pain as having a ‘moderate’ to ‘extreme’ interference with their normal work during the last four weeks before their survey participation.

Currently, Australia’s annual direct healthcare expenditure on OA and RA care exceeds $5.26 billion, compared with $3.4 billion spent on diabetes and $2.5 billion on coronary heart disease.

Without intervention, the figure for arthritis is projected to escalate, potentially surpassing $7.7 billion by 2040 based on the new projections. This excludes wider economic costs, with previous estimates showing arthritis-induced early retirements cost the government over $1.1 billion annually in welfare and lost tax revenue, along with lost GDP of $7.2 billion.

Among the Millennials who face this painful future, women in particular will bear the brunt — OA is projected to be nearly 80 percent higher among woman than men, with females also far more likely to experience RA and juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

Arthritis Australia Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Smithers explained the impact this will have on women during critical life stages, such as pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.

“The forecast rising tide of arthritis cases, especially among Millennials and women, compels us to rethink our approach to arthritis prevention and management for the generations who stand on the precipice of this escalating health challenge,” he said.

Monash University Professor Ilana Ackerman, who authored the new report, said that more needed to be done to secure a better future.

“Australians with osteoarthritis currently face major gaps in access to care according to clinical guidelines, which if properly implemented could improve health outcomes while reducing the need for expensive joint replacements,” she said.

“Despite arthritis being one of our most common disease groups, rheumatoid arthritis is particularly misunderstood, with many people unaware that it is an autoimmune disease that causes pain, disability, severe fatigue and brain fog, while also potentially damaging eyes and other organs.”

David Liew, Medical Director of Arthritis Australia and a consultant rheumatologist in Melbourne, said this will hit Millennials harder at the hip pocket as well.

“The complexities of these health issues for patients is compounded by extremely high out-of-pocket healthcare costs,” Dr David Liew said.

“Younger generations, including Millennials, already face considerable mental, emotional and financial pressures alongside these issues. Our healthcare system must adapt to prevent a future where millions are left without adequate support.”

Arthritis Australia has proposed three key actions to directly address the challenges posed by arthritis and alleviate the impact on those affected by arthritis and the broader population:

  • Resource allocation and funding:
    • fund affordable access to allied health and multidisciplinary models of care;
    • Unlock health system savings through a major Medical Research Future Fund investment in arthritis and musculoskeletal research.

 

  • Awareness and Knowledge:
    • challenge the perception of arthritis as an older person’s condition by raising awareness of its prevalence and impact among younger adults and children, promoting early intervention and support.

 

  • Education and Inclusion:
    • address the barriers arthritis symptoms pose to daily activities and participation in work and social life, promoting inclusive policies in workplaces, educational settings and social environments.

 

“As we look towards 2040, it’s clear the economic and workforce implications of the growing arthritis epidemic could be profound and hit some Australians particularly hard,” Jonathan Smithers added.

“Research will be vital in improving prevention and cost-effective treatments. We must support Australia’s world-leading researchers to make much-needed breakthroughs and ensure we don’t lose the next generation of researchers through underfunding.”

 

Do you live with arthritis? Let the team at Talking Aged Care know when you began to notice signs of arthritis and subscribe to the newsletter for more information, news and industry updates.

 

Related content:

Tips for managing your arthritis

Top health concerns for older people

Allied health to assist with the ageing experience

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