Publications

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Mobility Device Use in Late Life

Although racial and ethnic disparities in disability are well established and technology is increasingly used to bridge gaps between functional deficits and environmental demands, little research has focused on racial and ethnic disparities in device use. This study investigated whether use of mobility devices differs by race and ethnicity and explored several reasons for this difference. The sample included community-dwelling adults aged 65 and older from the 2002 and 2004 waves of the Health and Retirement Study. We used predisposing, need, and enabling factors to predict mobility device use alone and combined with personal care. Blacks had the highest rates of using mobility devices, followed by Hispanics and then Whites. Need and enabling factors explained differences between Blacks and Whites in wheelchair use but not cane use or use of devices without personal care. Other predisposing factors explained most differences between Hispanics and Whites. Because minorities appear to be using mobility devices in proportion to underlying need, increasing device use by minorities may not reduce disparities in mobility disability. Efforts to address racial/ethnic disparities in mobility disability in late life, therefore, may need to focus on differences in underlying functional decline rather than the accommodation of it. OBJECTIVE: Although racial and ethnic disparities in disability are well established and technology is increasingly used to bridge gaps between functional deficits and environmental demands, little research has focused on racial and ethnic disparities in device use. This study investigated whether use of mobility devices differs by race and ethnicity and explored several reasons for this difference. METHODS: The sample included community-dwelling adults aged 65 and older from the 2002 and 2004 waves of the Health and Retirement Study. We used predisposing, need, and enabling factors to predict mobility device use alone and combined with personal care. RESULT: Blacks had the highest rates of using mobility devices, followed by Hispanics and then Whites. Need and enabling factors explained differences between Blacks and Whites in wheelchair use but not cane use or use of devices without personal care. Other predisposing factors explained most differences between Hispanics and Whites. DISCUSSION: Because minorities appear to be using mobility devices in proportion to underlying need, increasing device use by minorities may not reduce disparities in mobility disability. Efforts to address racial/ethnic disparities in mobility disability in late life, therefore, may need to focus on differences in underlying functional decline rather than the accommodation of it.