|Disability Among Older Americans Continues Significant
Chronic disability among older Americans has dropped dramatically,
and the rate of decline has accelerated during the past two decades,
according to a new analysis of data from the National Long-Term
Care Survey (NLTCS). The study, published in this week’s Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the prevalence
of chronic disability among people 65 and older fell from 26.5
percent in 1982 to 19 percent in 2004/2005. The findings suggest
that older Americans’ health and function continue to improve at
a critical time in the aging of the population.
The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA),
a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A caregiving
component of the survey was supported by the Office of the Assistant
Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. All are part of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services. Kenneth G. Manton, Ph.D.,
and colleagues at Duke University conducted the research.
In addition to a drop in the percentage of older Americans reporting
disability, the analysis found that the average annual rate of
the decline has accelerated. The decline in disability averaged
1.52 percent annually over the 22-year time span, but the rate
of change shifted gradually from 0.6 percent in 1984 to 2.2 percent
“This continuing decline in disability among older people is one
of the most encouraging and important trends in the aging of the
American population,” says NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D.
The report is an eagerly anticipated update of the last assessment
of NLTCS data in 2001. “The challenge now is to see how this trend
can be maintained and accelerated especially in the face of increasing
obesity,” says Richard Suzman, Ph.D., director of NIA’s Behavioral
and Social Research Program. “Doing so over the next several decades
will significantly lessen the societal impact of the aging of the
The analysis also showed that from 1982 to 2004/2005:
- Chronic disability rates decreased among those over 65 with
both severe and less severe impairments, with the greatest improvements
seen among the most severely impaired. The researchers note that
environmental modifications, assistive technologies and biomedical
advances may be factors in these declines.
- The proportion of people without disabilities increased the
most in the oldest age group, rising by 32.6 percent among those
85 years and older.
- The percentage of Medicare enrollees age 65 and older who lived
in long-term care institutions such as nursing homes dropped
dramatically from 7.5 percent to 4.0 percent. The emergence of
assisted-living options, changes in Medicare reimbursement policies
and improved rehabilitation services may have fueled this decrease
If they continue as anticipated, the downward trends in chronic
disability rates among older adults could help bolster the Medicare
program’s fiscal health, the researchers suggest.
Funded through a cooperative agreement between the NIA and Duke
University, the NLTCS is a periodic federal government survey of
approximately 20,000 Medicare enrollees.
The NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting
research on aging and the medical, social and behavioral issues
of older people. For more information on research and aging,
go to www.nia.nih.gov. Publications
on research and a variety of health and aging topics can be viewed
and ordered by visiting the NIA Web site or can be ordered by
calling toll-free 1-800-222-2225.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.