Publications

Contribution of chronic conditions to aggregate changes in old-age functioning

Freedman and Martin explored the role of various chronic conditions in explaining recent improvements in functioning among older adults. Earlier diagnosis and improved treatment and management of chronic conditions, rather than prevention, may be important contributing factors to improvements in upper- and lower-body functioning among older Americans. OBJECTIVES: This study explored the role of various chronic conditions in explaining recent improvements in functioning among older Americans. METHODS: We used the Supplements on Aging to the 1984 and 1994 National Health Interview Surveys to examine changes among Americans 70 years and older in reports of chronic conditions and functional limitations. We decomposed functioning changes into condition-related components, controlling for demographic shifts. RESULTS: The percentage of older Americans with upper- and lower-body limitations declined from 5.1% and 34.2%, respectively, in 1984 to 4.3% and 28.5% in 1995, and the average number of lower body limitations decreased. During the same period, reports of 8 of 9 chronic conditions increased, but many of these conditions had less debilitating effects on functioning. Reductions in the debilitating effects of various chronic conditions–particularly arthritis–are important in explaining declines in limitations experienced by older Americans. CONCLUSIONS: Earlier diagnosis and improved treatment and management of chronic conditions, rather than prevention, may be important contributing factors to improvements in upper- and lower-body functioning among older Americans.