Understanding trends in functional limitations among older Americans

Am J Public Health. 1998 Oct;88(10):1457-62. doi: 10.2105/ajph.88.10.1457.


Objectives: This report documents trends in functional limitations among older Americans from 1984 to 1993 and investigates reasons for such trends.

Methods: We applied logistic regression to data for noninstitutionalized Americans aged 50 years and older from the Survey of Income and Program Participation. We focused on 4 functional limitation measures unlikely to be affected by changes in role expectations and living environments: reported difficulty seeing words in a newspaper, lifting and carrying 10 pounds, climbing a flight of stairs, and walking a quarter of a mile.

Results: We found large declines in the crude prevalence of functional limitations, especially for those 80 years and older. Generally, changes in population composition explained only a small portion of the downward trends. Once changes in population composition and mobility-related device use were considered for difficulty walking, significant improvements in functioning remained for the 65- to 79-year-old group.

Conclusions: Changes in population composition, device use, survey design, role expectations, and living environments do not appear to account completely for improvements in functioning. We infer that changes in under-lying physiological capability--whether real or perceived--likely underlie such trends.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Racial Groups
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States