Preventing or minimizing functional dependency in older adults rests, in part, upon the ability to predict who is at risk. The purpose of this study was to compare the ability of five tests of hand function to discriminate the degree of dependency in older adults. Seven hundred sixty four subjects were assessed for hand function on performance-based (Williams Test of Hand Function, a test of Williams Board items only, Jebsen Test of Hand Function, grip strength), and self-reported (Dexterity Scale of the Geriatrics-Arthritis Impact Measurement Scale (GERI-AIMS] measures of hand function, and self-reported multidimensional functional status (GERI-AIMS). A trichotomous variable representing a continuum of dependency based upon living site (independent living, home-bound, institutional) was used as the measure of dependency. Sixty-two cases were dropped for incomplete data. Discriminant function analyses of the 702 subjects (age X = 76.78 years, SD = 8.79) showed that basic demographic variables explain 40.8% of the variance in dependency; all hand function tests significantly correlated with dependency; the Williams Board correlated best (additional 12.5% variance explained). However, a multidimensional functional status measure explains substantially more variance in dependency (16.9%) after controlling for demographic variables and performance on the Williams Board. This comparison of methods and tests available for measuring hand function was made to provide criteria for selecting an instrument for a given setting.