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Administration on Aging (AoA)

Disability and Activity Limitations

Some type of disability (i.e., difficulty in hearing, vision, cognition, ambulation, self-care, or independent living) was reported by 36% of people age 65 and over in 2012. The percentages for individual disabilities ranged from almost one quarter (23 percent) having an ambulatory disability to 7 percent having a vision difficulty (Figure 9). Some of these disabilities may be relatively minor but others cause people to require assistance to meet important personal needs. There is a strong relationship between disability status and reported health status. Presence of a severe disability is also associated with lower income levels and educational attainment.

Figure 9 shows a chart of the percentage of older persons with disabilities.  Among people age 65 and over, 36 percent have at least one disability.  Other disabilities range from 9 percent.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey.

Using limitations in activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) to measure disability, in 2010, 28% of community-resident Medicare beneficiaries age 65+ reported difficulty in performing one or more ADLs and an additional 12% reported difficulty with one or more IADLs. By contrast, 92% of institutionalized Medicare beneficiaries had difficulties with one or more ADLs and 76% 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.

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 (more than half are age 85 and over). These individuals often need care with their ADLs and/or have severe cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer's disease or other dementias.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey. National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey.

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Last Modified: 8/25/2014