Examining a Trend over Three Decades in Late-Life Disability Prevalence in the U.S.

Vicki A. Freedman, University of Michigan
Douglas A. Wolf, Syracuse University
Brenda Spillman, Urban Institute

Demographers have long been interested in the implications of lengthening life for the health and functioning of the older population. Recent findings suggest that the decline in late-life disability prevalence for the 1982-2004 period may have ended and may even reverse course in the near future. Yet data to confirm this long-term trend have been lacking. This paper will present estimates of the prevalence of activity limitations among those 65 or older for 1982 and 2004 (from the National Long Term Care Survey) and from 2011 (from the National Health and Aging Trends Study). We find evidence consistent with a reversal of the decline in disability for women. For men, the oldest old are continuing to experience declines in disability but younger men’s prevalence rates have stalled. We place the findings in context with recent mortality trends and discuss limitations and implications for future research on trends and related policy.

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Presented in Session 26: Health and Disability in Later Life