A complication of ageing populations

In the same way that taxes, sleep, going to the bathroom and submitting your university assignments 5 minutes before they’re due are all parts of life, most of us reading this blog have come to accept and embrace them at some point. However, one part of life some of us have a hard time accepting is growing older.

Luckily for us, compared to the past, ageing is a lot more bearable that it previously would have been. With advances in modern medicine and state of the art healthcare facilities, a large portion of society today is able to age gracefully with help and support for whatever age related injuries or illnesses they may succumb to later in life.


Ageing population. Photo by Sarah Van Den Elsken via flickr

A problem of ageing

As your age your likelihood of being afflicted with certain diseases increases. These are called age-related diseases, and may be physical, for example, cardiovascular disease or cancer; or cognitive, for example dementia or cognitive aging.

The problem associated with this is populations, especially those in middle-high income countries are ageing faster than ever before seen in history. In fact, it is estimated that by 2020, the world will reach a demographic milestone which has yet to be previously seen, in that the number of people aged over 65 will exceed the number of children aged less than 5 since records have been kept.

So, populations are growing older, and when they do prevalence of age-related diseases increase. It is important that we understand the risk factors for these diseases to best manage the health implications that an ageing population imposes.


Dementia, by Bilgi Baba via flickr

A problem of analysis

In the United States when you pass away, the practitioner present fills out a death certificate containing information about the immediate cause of death, the intermediate causes, the underlying causes and any other disease and disorders the person had at the time of death, even if they did not directly cause the death. They do this in conjunction with the International classification of diseases (ICD10) as set out by World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

But as people are dying at older ages with more disease, illness and complications it can be difficult to prescribe the underlying cause (UC), and subsequently intermediate causes. Because of this, just using underlying cause of death when analysing age-related illnesses can result in an oversimplification of the clinical-pathological process leading to death.

An alternative to this approach is using MCOD analysis or multiple cause of death analysis, to capture the multitude of diseases that can lead to chronic disease mortality, that simple analysis of the UC wouldn’t represent. In addition to this MCOD can be analysed to explore associations between diseases leading to death, which is crucial for understanding disease risk in ageing populations.

Moving forward

It is estimated that worldwide dementia prevalence may rise from 47 million in 2015 to 131 million in 2050. Alternative methods of analysing mortality data, such as MCOD may aid us in understanding the risk factors driving the disease and help put in place management and prevention programs to reduce disease prevalence where we can. This type of analysis can also give us information about how we can expect mortality rates from these types of diseases to change in the future and allocate our resources accordingly.

So while ageing may be a part of life and presents significant complications for society and globally in the near future, this method can help us understand the process a little bit better.


If you would like to learn more about dementia, I’ve included some links to websites and journal articles that you can access through the Melbourne University Library below.


Fact sheet for dementia:


Paper on risk factors for dementia:


An example of MCOD analysis:


A paper on ageing and public health implications


5 Responses to “A complication of ageing populations”

  1. Ryan Jones says:

    Thank you!

  2. Ryan Jones says:

    It’s more of a response to populations growing older. As more complications arise at older ages (different types of disease and multiple diseases, often chronic) different analysis methods can be used that may be better suited to understanding causes of the disease. MCOD analysis is one of these methods.

  3. Leonhard Volz says:

    That is a very interesting primer on the MCOD, thanks for making me aware!

    Would you say that this is much more important in later life stages? Or just an issue of more complicated diseases arising at a higher age, but generally important to consider multiple causes?
    Would love to hear your thoughts.

  4. Emma Barbier says:

    This is a really interesting article I enjoyed reading! It was well written and I thought it was engaging.

    I like the way you included links to scientific journals to allow us to read on further 🙂

  5. Yue Li says:

    Interesting topic and aging population is truly a big issue for the society. It may be better to explain more about what dementia and MCOD mean exactly, because they seems really important (or key idea) for this blog.