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Administration on Aging (AoA)

A Profile of Older Americans: 2011

Disability and Activity Limitations

Some type of disability (i.e., difficulty in hearing, vision, cognition, ambulation, self-care, or independent living) was reported by 37% of older persons in 2010. Some of these disabilities may be relatively minor but others cause people to require assistance to meet important personal needs. In 2005, another survey found that almost 37% of older persons reported a severe disability and 16% reported that they needed some type of assistance as a result. Reported disability increases with age: 56% of persons over 80 reported a severe disability and 29% of the over 80 population reported that they needed assistance. There is a strong relationship between disability status and reported health status. Among those 65+ with a severe disability, 64% reported their health as fair or poor. Among the 65+ persons who reported no disability, only 10% reported their health as fair or poor. Presence of a severe disability is also associated with lower income levels and educational attainment.

In another study which focused on the ability to perform specific activities of daily living (ADLs), over 27% of community-resident Medicare beneficiaries over age 65 in 2009 had difficulty in performing one or more ADLs and an additional 12.7% reported difficulties with instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). By contrast, 95% of institutionalized Medicare beneficiaries had difficulties with one or more ADLs and 74% of them had difficulty with three or more ADLs. [ADLs include bathing, dressing, eating, and getting around the house. IADLs include preparing meals, shopping, managing money, using the telephone, doing housework, and taking medication.] Limitations in activities because of chronic conditions increase with age. As shown in Figure 9, the rate of limitations in activities among persons 85 and older are much higher than those for persons 65-74.

Figure 9:
Figure 9 is a chart of the percent of older persons with limitations in actitivities of daily living by age group.  For most activities, the two younger groups which are under 85 years old show only 1%-28% who are limited.  The 85 and over group show much higher rates of activity limitations, ranging from 11% for eating to 47% for walking.

Except where noted, the figures above are taken from surveys of the noninstitutionalized elderly. Although nursing homes are being increasingly used for short-stay post-acute care, about 1.3 million elderly are in nursing homes (about half are age 85 and over). These individuals often have high needs for care with their ADLs and/or have severe cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer's disease or other dementias.

(Sources: Americans with Disabilities: 2005, December 2008, P70-117 and other Internet releases of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and the National Center on Health Statistics, including the NCHS Health Data Interactive data warehouse)

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Last Modified: 8/25/2014