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A Profile of Older Americans: 2006

Disability and Activity Limitations


In 2002, 52% of older persons reported that they had some type of disability (sensory disability, physical disability, or mental disability). Some of these disabilities may be relatively minor but others cause people to require assistance to meet important personal needs. 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. 57% of persons over 80 reported a severe disability and 30% 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, 66% reported their health as fair or poor. Among the 65+ persons who reported no disability, only 10.5% 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 27.1% of community-resident Medicare beneficiaries over age 65 in 2004 had difficulty in performing one or more ADLs and an additional 13.7% reported difficulties with instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). By contrast, 91.3% of institutionalized Medicare beneficiaries had difficulties with one or more ADLs and 76.5% 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 on activities because of chronic conditions increase with age. As shown in Figure 9 (from another survey), the rate of limitations on activities among persons 85 and older are much higher than those for persons 65-74.

Figure 9:
Figure 9: Percent of Persons with limitations in Activities of Daily Living by Age Group in 2004.  Bathing and Showering 6 percent 65 thru 74 years old, 14 percent 75 thru 84 years old, and 36 percent 85 years and older. Dressing 5 percent 65 thru 74 years old, 10 percent 75 thru 84 years old, and 25 percent 85 years and older.  Eating 2 percent 65 thru 74 years old, 4 percent 75 thru 84 years old, and 13 percent 85 years and older.  Getting in and out of bed or chairs 8 percent 65 thru 74 years old, 15 percent 75 thru 84 years old, and 30 percent 85 years and older.  Walking 17 percent 65 thru 74 years old, 28 75 thru 84 years old, and 47 percent 85 years and older.  Using the toilet 3 percent 65 thru 74 years old, 7 percent 75 thru 84 years old, and 23 percent 85 years and older.

It should be noted that (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 1.6 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: 2002, May 2006, P70-107 and other Internet releases of the Census Bureau and the National Center on Health Statistics, including the NCHS Data Warehouse on Trends in Health and Aging)

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AoA - Statistics - A Profile of Older Americans 2006 - Special Topic: Health Literacy