Each additional chronic condition among older people diminishes life expectancy, according to a study published in Medical Care.

Eva H. DuGoff, Ph.D., from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and colleagues analyzed data from 1,372,272 Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries aged 67 and older as of Jan. 1, 2008. Selected chronic conditions of interest were heart disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers found that life expectancy decreased with each additional chronic condition. For example, a 67-year-old individual with no chronic conditions will live on average 22.6 additional years, while a 67-year-old individual with five chronic conditions and ≥10 chronic conditions will live 7.7 fewer years and 17.6 fewer years, respectively.

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Each additional chronic condition yielded an average marginal decline in life expectancy of 1.8 years (ranging from 0.4 fewer years with the first condition to 2.6 fewer years with the sixth condition). These results were similar by sex and race. The differences in life expectancy with selected conditions at 67 years diminished with age and increasing numbers of comorbid conditions.

“Social Security and Medicare actuaries should account for the growing number of beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions when determining population projections and trust fund solvency,” the authors write.

  1. Dugoff, Eva H. MPP, et al. “Multiple Chronic Conditions and Life Expectancy: A Life Table Analysis.” Medical Care. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000166. August 2014.