Disability Incidence and Functional Decline among Older Adults with Major Chronic Diseases

17 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2019

See all articles by Joelle H. Fong

Joelle H. Fong

National University of Singapore

Date Written: February 1, 2019


Background: More than 80% of elderly Americans have at least one chronic disease. While past studies have shown that the pattern of functional loss follows a distinct progression that may differ by gender and institutional settings, little is known about whether such patterns differ in relation to chronic health condition. The aim of this study is to investigate the pattern of functional loss among older adults with major chronic illnesses, and to compare their onset, ordering and general pattern of incident ADL disability with those of persons without such conditions.

Methods: We use a nationally representative sample of persons aged 80+ from the 1998-2016 Asset and Health Dynamics of the Oldest Old survey. The group with major noncommunicable diseases (including cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes) comprises 3,514,052 subjects, while the comparison group comprises 1,073,263 subjects. Self-reports of having difficulty with six distinct ADLs are used to estimate disability incidence rate. Nonparametric statistical methods are used to derive median onset ages and ADL loss sequence separately for each group.

Results: Older adults with major chronic diseases have higher rates of incident disability across all ADL items, and those who are have disabilities face a higher mortality risk. For the full sample, the estimated median onset ages of ADL disabilities range from 91.5 to 95.6. Disability occurs earlier for chronically ill persons (onset ages 91.1-95.0) than for those in the comparison group (onset ages 93.5-98.1). The pattern of functional loss is, however, largely similar between groups. The loss sequence for both subpopulations are characterized by an early-loss cluster and a late-loss cluster. Results also show that disability progression for those with major chronic diseases is compressed within a shorter timeframe, and that timing gaps between adjacent disabilities are smaller.

Conclusions: Older Americans with major noncommunicable diseases face an earlier and steeper slope of functional decline. Chronic care delivery programs should adapt to dynamic changes in older patients’ functional status. Health interventions to help patients delay disability onset and optimize functional autonomy within emerging models of chronic care should especially target early-loss activities such as bathing, dressing, and walking.

Keywords: Aging, Disability incidence, ADL disability, Oldest old, Longitudinal research

JEL Classification: G22, H51, H75, C24

Suggested Citation

Fong, Joelle H., Disability Incidence and Functional Decline among Older Adults with Major Chronic Diseases (February 1, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3421968 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3421968

Joelle H. Fong (Contact Author)

National University of Singapore ( email )

SINGAPORE, Singapore 259771

HOME PAGE: http://https://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/our-people/faculty/fong-hung-yee-joelle

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