Recent declines in chronic disability in the elderly U.S. population: risk factors and future dynamics

Annu Rev Public Health. 2008:29:91-113. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.29.020907.090812.


As U.S. life expectancy has increased, questions arise as to how the quality of health and functioning in the elderly population has changed. Data from the 1982-2004 National Long-Term Care Survey (NLTCS) suggested that chronic disability prevalence above age 65 declined at an increasing rate with a 2.2% per annum rate of decline from 1999 to 2004 ( 71 ). Inflation-adjusted per capita Medicare expenditure rates in nondisabled persons also declined, 0.9% per annum from 1982 to 2004, which suggests that declines in disability were driven by improving health -- not by increases in per capita health expenditures. Declines in disability prevalence were found in other U.S. national health surveys. Analyses of U.S. Civil War veterans suggest recent disability declines were continuations of declines in both chronic disease and disability occurring over the past century due to improved nutrition, sanitation, and education. Concerns exist about whether disability declines will continue because of recent increases in obesity prevalence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy / trends
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology