Open Access Open Badges Research

Age of onset in chronic diseases: new method and application to dementia in Germany

Ralph Brinks1*, Sandra Landwehr1 and Regina Waldeyer12

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Biometry and Epidemiology, German Diabetes Center, Auf’m Hennekamp 65, Duesseldorf, 40225, Germany

2 Department of Public Health, Heinrich Heine University, Duesseldorf, 40225, Germany

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Population Health Metrics 2013, 11:6  doi:10.1186/1478-7954-11-6

Published: 2 May 2013



Age of onset is an important outcome to characterize a population with a chronic disease. With respect to social, cognitive, and physical aspects for patients and families, dementia is especially burdensome. In Germany, like in many other countries, it is highly prevalent in the older population and imposes enormous efforts for caregivers and society.


We develop an incidence-prevalence-mortality model to derive the mean and variance of the age of onset in chronic diseases. Age- and sex-specific incidence and prevalence of dementia is taken from published values based on health insurance data from 2002. Data about the age distribution in Germany in 2002 comes from the Federal Statistical Office.


Mean age of onset of a chronic disease depends on a) the age-specific incidence of the disease, b) the prevalence of the disease, and c) the age distribution of the population. The resulting age of onset of dementia in Germany in 2002 is 78.8 ± 8.1 years (mean ± standard deviation) for men and 81.9 ± 7.6 years for women.


Although incidence and prevalence of dementia in men are not greater than in women, men contract dementia approximately three years earlier than women. The reason lies in the different age distributions of the male and the female population in Germany.