Penn Researchers Conclude Adults in Malawi are Living Longer, but with Disabilities

May 16, 2013

The number of adults living beyond age 45 in the sub-Saharan African country of Malawi is growing rapidly, but according to a study by Penn and Malawian researchers, many of these older men and women experience physical illnesses or disabilities that limit their capacity to function normally.

The research, conducted by Collin F. Payne, a doctoral candidate in demography in the School of Arts & Sciences; James Mkandawire, a research manager at the Malawian firm Invest in Knowledge; and Hans-Peter Kohler, the Frederick J. Warren Professor of Demography in the sociology department, shows that the physical limitations of a 45-year-old in Malawi living with severe functional deficiencies are comparable to those of an 80-year-old in the United States.

Among those surveyed, they found the likelihood of having a physical disability increased considerably with age, with 45-year-old women in Malawi expected to spend 58 percent of their estimated remaining 28 years with functional limitations, while 45-year-old men are expected to live 41 percent of their remaining 25.4 years of life with functional limitations.

The study, “Disability Transitions and Health Expectancies Among Adults 45 Years and Older in Malawi: A Cohort-Based Model,” was published in the May issue of the journal PLOS Medicine.

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