Disability more prevalent in older individuals toward the end of life

Individuals who live to an older age were more likely to be disabled near the end of life and required the assistance of a caregiver to complete activities of daily living, according to study results published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Using a nationally representative sample of older Americans (n= 8,232) who died while enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study between 1995 and 2010, researchers estimated disability during the last 2 years of life through interviews conducted during that time. Disability was defined as a need for help with at least one activity of daily living, including dressing, bathing, eating, transferring, walking across the room and using the toilet. Average age at death was 79 years.

Overall, researchers found that the prevalence of disability increased from 28% 2 years before death to 56% in the last month of life. Disability was much more likely 2 years before death among individuals who died at the oldest ages. Women were also more likely to experience disabilities 2 years before death vs. men, even after adjustment for older age at death.

“Our data do raise the question of whether it makes sense to sell the public a view of aging that purports that it is reasonable to expect to both live a long life and remain free of disability throughout life,” the researchers concluded. “Our findings add to the evidence that those who live to advanced ages will spend greater periods of time in states of disability than those who die at younger ages.”

For more information:

Smith AK. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.8738.

Disclosure: The researchers have no relevant financial disclosures.

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