Chronic Conditions and the Decline in Late-Life Disability, 1997-2004

Vicki A. Freedman, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
Robert Schoeni, University of Michigan
Linda G. Martin, Institute of Medicine, The National Academies
Jennifer C. Cornman, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Using the 1997-2004 National Health Interview Survey, we examine changes in chronic conditions as explanations for declines in late-life disability prevalence. We first decompose disability declines into changes in the prevalence of chronic conditions and in the risk of disability given a condition. In doing so, we extend traditional decomposition techniques to incorporate annual measures. We then repartition these traditional components into causal and co-morbid components based on respondents’ reports of conditions causing disability. We find increases in most conditions and declines in their association with disability. However, only 2 of the 7 condition groups that we examined—heart/circulatory conditions and sensory impairments (specifically, vision impairments)—were less likely to cause disability in 2004 than in 1997. Out of a total decline in disability prevalence of 1.45 percentage points, declines in heart/circulatory conditions causing disability account for .92 percentage points and declines in vision impairments causing disability account for .59 percentage points.

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Presented in Session 127: Health Trajectories in Old Age